Posted by: Nate | May 21, 2008

Celtics Dispose Cavs, Move on to East Finals

I was fortunate enough to be able to attend game 7 between the Celtics and Cavaliers on Sunday night. This marks the second consecutive game 7 of theirs that I was able to attend and my 6th Boston Sports playoff game since 2004 (’04 ALCS game 4, ’07 ALCS games 6 & 7, ’07 World Series Game 1 being the other 4). You’ll note that all of those games have resulted in favorable outcomes, so as a service to the Boston sports community, I’ll be doing my best to attend as many deciding games as I can. If you want to help out the cause, I certainly accept donations and free tickets and my contact info is on the “Contact” page…

Getting back to the game, it was truly an incredible experience and I likened it to a heavyweight fight. LeBron and Pierce put their teams on their backs and carried the offensive load, going back and forth, shot for shot the entire game. It got to the point where I was convinced that Pierce wasn’t going to miss and that LeBron could smash through the Berlin wall and still get a shot off. Those two put on quite a show, one that was eerily reminiscent of the 1988 series against the Hawks, where Dominque Wilkins and Larry Bird squared off in a similarly epic battle among NBA greats.

The story of the game for me, though, was the play of the bench for the Celtics. Ray Allen has disappeared in the playoffs and Sam Cassell has been struggling to find the range and didn’t play in game 7. PJ Brown and Eddie House came off the bench and had some excellent contributions both offensively and emotionally that really elevated the Celtics to the next level.

When House hustled down the court and made that diving save of the ball that led directly to Celtics points, The Garden erupted and carried an “Eddie, Eddie” chant all the way through the timeout. His line for the night wasn’t anything that will win any awards (4 points on 1-5 shooting, 1 rebound, 1 assist, 1 steal, 1 block in 15 minutes) but the hustle plays like that one and the 2-2 shooting at the free throw line were instrumental in swinging the momentum and harnessing the raucous Celtics home crowd. PJ Brown was even more impressive, going a perfect 4-4 from the field, 2-2 from the foul line, collecting 6 rebounds (3 of which were offensive) and playing tough interior defense making sure that LeBron didn’t get any easy baskets. These two really helped invigorate the crowd, made the hustle plays that led to victory and contributed big minutes off the bench. They will be instrumental in the coming series as well, as Detroit is a strong team that also has a lot of depth and talent off the bench.

Seeing LeBron in person for the first time was quite an experience, as he really is an impressive talent. As I mentioned, he can barrel through the lane, taking 2-3 fouls on his way by and still get a decent shot attempt up. It’s getting to the point where if you don’t wrap him up like Pierce and PJ Brown did multiple times this series, he’ll get the 3 point play more often than not. He also is a much better passer than I anticipated as well, often hitting the wide open or cutting teammate in perfect position. He can’t control the fact that his teammates can’t convert those opportunities often enough.

My only critique is that I feel like he settles for the long jumper or contested 3 far too often, especially given his career .324% from downtown. His game is most effective driving into the lane for easy buckets or drawing fouls, not falling away from 18-20 feet or heaving 3 pointers. If he can work on shooting a better percentage from 3, or shooting less of them I think his game would be much improved.

I know I have said this several times already, but the crowd was really something special the other night. It’s great to be a part of the crowd where the fans are engaged, enthusiastic and vicious like back in the old days, having sat through some very lackluster crowd performances in recent years. It’s also nice to have the entire sports scene be on the rebound after a decent stretch of futility and missed opportunities. The Red Sox have won 2 championships in 4 years, the Patriots completed a historic regular season last year and the Celtics have returned to glory of Big Three’s past. It’s a great time to be a Boston fan right now and the combination of that exciting game 7 win followed by a no hitter from Jon Lester really drove home how great things are right now. We really are spoiled as Boston fans right now, and it is so sweet to be able to savor these moments, and these victories after a long absence from success and relevance. It makes enduring seasons like the 2006-2007 Celtics and the 1990 Patriots worthwhile when you can see them transform over the course of a year, or ten.

Trivia Answer: The only two players to collect 3 hits in the same inning were Gene Stephens (1953) and Johnny Damon (2003), both with the Red Sox.

Next Question: Who hurled the first no hitter for the Red Sox in the 21st century?

Answer to follow at the end of the next post. Post your answers in the comments section.

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