Check that patient doctor. I swear he’s breathing.
The Boston Celtics, continuing to clamp down and minimize the effectiveness of LeBron James on the offensive side of the court, were outdone and dominated by a much maligned and thought to be gasping for life Cavalier supporting cast in a Cavs 108-84 blowout win at ‘The Q’ Saturday night. And that supporting cast, unlike in last year’s playoffs didn’t include Daniel Gibson who scored just three points on a late 3-pointer when the outcome was long decided.
Rather than James and Gibson dominating it was Delonte West, Wally Szczerbiak and Joe Smith who stepped up when needed most to take some of the mounting pressure off the King in a game the Cavs controlled from the early minutes.
West scored 21 points, Smith scored 17 and Szczerbiak 16 on 18-29 combined shooting. That was not only necessary but it was a sight for sore eyes given James, while scoring 21 points also, continued to struggle with his shot, hitting just 5 of the 16 shots he took.
But the Cavalier who may have had the biggest on the ballgame was Ben Wallace. Wallace was not expected to play Saturday in Game 3. In fact, even when his name was announced in pre-game introductions it was Anderson Varejao, not Wallace, who ran out and assumed Wallace’s place with the starting five. But Wallace did answer the bell.
And he answered it with authority.
Big Ben was active under the boards early and also turned a couple great looks from James into early baskets. On the night Wallace scored 9 points on 4-6 from the floor. The veteran from Virginia Union also grabbed nine rebounds and did another commendable job in hawking Celtics forward Kevin Garnett. Garnett did shoot 8-13 from the floor for 17 points but he earned every one of those when Wallace was on the floor. Wallace’s defensive pressure also forced Garnett to pass out of scoring position on many occasions to Paul Pierce and Ray Allen. And that’s a good thing right now. Allen and Pierce were a combined 7-20 from the field for 24 points.
Say what you will about James’s struggles thus far in the series, but Pierce and Allen are right there with him in regard to shooting the basketball. I’m sure the Boston media and the Celtics fans will soon take note that all is not well in Bean Town with either Pierce or the Basketball Jesus. Rumor has it the Boston media fans and not known for their forgiving nature.
Aside from the intangibles that Wallace gave the Cavs as well as the boards and 2 blocks, Wallace’s points were huge. Maybe not in volume, but rather in what they meant to the Cavs offense. Wallace was effective enough and open enough down low to make the Celtics account for his presence in the early going. That helped open the floor for West and the rest. What also helped open the floor was the fact that West hit some triples early. That gave some credibility to his ball fakes and penetration.
It was textbook Cavalier offense on Saturday night. Shooters hitting open shots and James taking the ball to the basket and getting whistles.
At some point in this series the Cavaliers are going to need the 2007 playoff version of James to step up and set the tone. James gave glimpses on Saturday night that he was slowly working his way out of the mini-slump that has thus far plagued him in this series. LBJ was just 5-16 from the floor but 3 of those 5 did come from long range. James is still misfiring at an alarming rate from inside the arc but he’s also not inclined to sit back and fire from outside. James got to the line 12 times in Game 3 and cashed in 8 of those free throws. And he continues to take a physical beating every time he waltzes to the basket. He’s a big man but there are bigger ones lying in wait in the lane. You can question his stroke but you have to admire his heart.
The other good news for the Cavs is that the Celtics are doing a terrific Miami Heat impersonation on the road. Boston has yet to find their way to a victory on the road this playoff season. The loss Saturday night runs their playoff road record to a perfectly imperfect 0-4. Not only that, but they look like two totally different teams. Yielding just 75 points per game in Boston the Celtics are giving up a staggering 25 more points per game on the road.
That’s just one more thing for the fine folks in Celtic green to think about as we head to Game 4 in a series that has suddenly gotten a whole lot more interesting. With a win in Game 4 the Celtics suddenly return to Boston in a fight for their lives and with precious little margin for error.
And there’s that spectre of #23 coming out of his darkness to light up another night or two before it’s all said and done.