UNSUPPORTED BROWSER
More Sports

Fast Breaks: Celtics-Cavs, Game 2

CLEVELAND -- The proud Celtics recovered from their Game 1 collapse to demolish the Cavaliers with a 21-4 third-quarter run and beat Cleveland 104-86 Monday, while seizing homecourt advantage and deadlocking the series at 1.

1. The Cavs aren't playing like title favorites. They have yet to rise to a championship level in the playoffs. "For 48 minutes, we did not play with a sense of urgency,'' thundered Cleveland coach Mike Brown after the game. "They kicked our behind from the beginning. They got every 50-50 ball, they converted every offensive rebound into points and we did not fight back until late.''

The Cavs played a strong Game 4 in the first round at Chicago, but otherwise have been stuck in third gear or below. Apart from the closing 18 minutes of their Game 1 comeback win, they've been outscored by Boston 173-144 -- despite attempting 30 more free throws combined. Over the two games, Boston is outshooting Cleveland on both sides of the three-point line, while generating more rebounds and assists. It goes without saying the Cavs can't beat these rejuvenated Celtics -- and would have even less hope against Orlando in the next round -- by maintaining this low gear.

Out of respect for their strong regular season as the No. 1 seed of the playoffs, the talent of MVP LeBron James and the depth of versatile talent around him, it has been assumed the Cavs would rise up when challenged. But Brown is not making that assumption.

"Nothing is going to be given to us at all,'' said the coach, who was atypically angry during his postgame interview. "Ain't a (---)damn thing going to be given to us at all in this series. It's not good enough for me, it's not good enough for anybody in that locker room, and if we expect to win this series we have got to bring more of a sense of urgency than we brought tonight.''

It's going to be interesting to see how Brown channels this emotional demand for intensity over the next three off-days going into Game 3 Friday in Boston -- especially since James appeared far more calm after the loss. He said Brown had shared little fire with his players in the privacy of the locker room. "He didn't say much after the game,'' James told reporters. "He must not love you like he loves us, I guess.''

2. James was held to 24 points. He attempted only 15 shots and made no threes (0 for 4) while committing more turnovers (5) than assists (4). "It's no panic for me,'' said James. "I may handle it different than Mike handles it. It's just two games and the series is tied 1-1.''

The Celtics cut off James's driving lanes and afterwards coach Doc Rivers said they'd made no adjustments, other than executing more efficiently. "In Game 1, there were so many gaps when we watched the film,'' he said. "The only adjustment we really made was doing it the way we should do it.''

On both nights of the series, James has worked his way into the game before attempting jump shots, leading to speculation that his sprained and bruised right shooting elbow was limiting his options. "I'm going to continue to try to be the player I am,'' he said when asked about his elbow. "I would never use the injury as an excuse. Tonight, I was OK, but as a team all of us were just OK -- that's why we lost tonight on our court.''

Brown didn't want to hear anymore talk of James's injury. "His elbow's fine, he has not said anything to me,'' said Brown. "If it's hurt, it's news to me. I have not heard anything about it.''

The next three days are going to be very telling for Cleveland. Brown's response was not unlike that of any coach after a miserable playoff loss. Gregg Popovich or Pat Riley or Rivers would have said the same kind of things after sitting through an unacceptable stinker in May when a contender should be peaking. Will the players respect Brown's challenge and rally around him? There can be no other course if they are dedicated to winning their first championship.

"It isn't supposed to be easy,'' said James calmly. "It's the playoffs. We're going to have losses, we're going to have bumps and bruises. It's how you react to the next game -- that's why I'm sitting here talking the way I'm talking. I'm focused for the next game.

"I don't feel pressure at all. I'm looking forward to Game 3 and that's the most important game at this point.''

3. The third quarter. The Celtics were leading 52-48 at the half, and instead of sulking over their 10 turnovers that created 15 easy points to keep the score close for Cleveland, they outscored their hosts 31-12 over the third quarter. They held Cleveland to 31.3 percent and as many field goals as turnovers (5), while the Boston starters were going 10 for 14 from the field, including a pair of crushing threes by Ray Allen, who had 10 points in the third quarter on his way to a team-leading 22 points overall.

The Celtics had gone passive on the back end of the third quarter of Game 1, much as they had played without energy in too many second halves this year. On Monday, however, they responded to Rivers's demands by exuding energy and then withstanding a fourth-quarter run by the Cavs, who cut the deficit down to 10 with four minutes remaining. But a Rajon Rondo offensive rebounde provided Paul Pierce (14 points) with an opportunity to finish a drive with a finger-roll layup as Boston closed out with an 11-3 run.

It's hard to remember the last time the Celtics put together four intensive quarters against a leading opponent. Can they string together several more of these performances over the week ahead?

4. The return of Rasheed Wallace. "The bench saved the game for us in the second quarter,'' said Rivers, and leading the way was Wallace, who had 17 points on eight shots, including 3 of 4 from the three-point line. The only shot he missed was a three at the third-quarter buzzer, as he galloped away in frustration -- a rare expression of passion from a player who showed little energy for much of the season.

The Celtics were in foul trouble late in the first quarter when Rivers went with a second unit of Wallace, Glen Davis, Tony Allen and Michael Finley alongside Rondo, while the Cavs stayed with James alongside Anderson Varejao, Delonte West, Anthony Parker before quickly returning Antawn Jamison to the court. And yet those Celtics turn a 1-point lead into a 35-23 advantage early in the second quarter.

Wallace was especially inspiring, making all five of his shots for a team-best 13 points at halftime. Last week, Celtics GM Danny Ainge had predicted a strong performance from Wallace in the playoffs while noting that he had spent more time after practice to improve his shooting over the last two months. "Doc has challenged Rasheed to work on that and to get the shots up and to work on his game more,'' said Ainge last Thursday. "We really need Rasheed, we need him to be good. He's physically ready, he's not overused, and I'm hoping he can be a factor in a few of the games in this series.''

5. Irrepressible Rondo. The Celtics point guard has been the best player on the floor while averaging 20 points and 15.5 assists over the two games. After dominating Game 1 early with his drives to the basket but then struggling to involve his teammates over the second half, he wisely began Game 2 by moving the ball around before attacking. He would attempt 10 shots (for 13 points) while doling out 19 assists, a terrific ratio considering the talent around him.

"He had a great floor game,'' said Rivers. "That's his second one in the playoffs, I would say. He felt the game through the coach, and when you get that with a point guard there's no better feeling.''

As easily as Rondo is able to drive to the basket, his scoring can sometimes hurt the Celtics when it excludes his fellow stars from the offense. On this night a half-dozen Celtics scored in double figures with Rondo making certain to feed Kevin Garnett for 21 attempts as he finished with 18 points in 34 minutes. The Celtics have spent most of the season waiting for the return of Garnett's health, and in Game 2 they scored inside while playing through him.

Rondo's other impact is that he's winning his matchup against Cleveland point guard Mo Williams, who was 1 for 9 for four points in 35 minutes. Brown lit into Williams afterward: "It's going to be tough for us to win with Mo playing the way he played tonight.''

SI.com

Drag this icon to your bookmark bar.
Then delete your old SI.com bookmark.

SI.com

Click the share icon to bookmark us.