Saturday, May 31

NBA Playoffs Non-Analysis: The Finals

Oh, goody, Lakers and Celtics, the Finals matchup that all of America (i.e. LA fans, Boston fans, those with financial interest in the league) has been waiting for. The Association will make a ton of money, the sport will maxmize its exposure, and hopefully some good basketball will be played. Boston's defensive prowess versus the Lakers' offensive flow will be an interesting matchup, and the series is packed with star players for both LA (Bryant, Odom, Gasol) and Boston (crazy Garnett, Pierce, sort-of Allen).

Here's the thing: I don't care that it's Boston and LA. I don't care that they played three times for the title about 20 years ago, and I even remember watching some of those games as a youth and rooting for the Celtics. The history here for me, as a Cavs fan, could not be less exciting. Frankly, I'd rather have fresh teams. I wish I could get a flashback-free broadcast of this finals; I wish even more that I could watch it in Francis-vision where you have the same players and everything, but one team is blue with no logo and one is red with no logo. Because for me, the Finals is one of two things:

1) Cavs vs. West champion (see 2007)
2) Not Cavs vs. West champion (see every other year)

In a case like this where scenario 2 is taking place, it's not entirely relevant if it's Boston-LA, Toronto-New Orleans, Charlotte-Sacramento, or Madrid-Bombay. I'll pick a horse to back for some arbitrary reason, of course, but I'm hoping for close-fought games - this present historical context doesn't do a thing for me. Onto the prediction:


The Finals

(1)Celtics vs (1)Lakers
Out of the 12 series I've picked so far, I've missed on four: twice I picked the Spurs to lose and they did not, twice I picked Boston to lose and they did not. Apparently I underestimated (more accurately, over-disliked) these two squads, especially Boston.

At the start, as you'll remember, I picked Detroit over LA in the Finals, and was thus quite impressed at how Boston handled Detroit, beating them twice in the Palace. Considering that the Celtics beat the team who I believed would topple the Lakers and claim the Larry O'Brien Trophy, transitive logic (and home-court logic) dictates that I go with the Celtics in this series, right? Right?

Likewise, I tend to pull for teams who have never won or haven't won for a long time, mostly to reward patient, loyal fan bases. Well, Boston hasn't won since 1986 and hasn't even been to the Finals since 1987, while LA is making their fifth Finals appearance this decade and seeking their fourth title over that span. My rule of thumb suggests I back the Celtics here, right?

Wrong.

I can't pick the Celtics, even if I thought they could win (I don't), even if my argument from two paragraphs actually held up (not really), and even if the franchise has been waiting 20 years to add their 17th title. Because, and let me be clear here: I hate Boston sports teams and am tiring of both their dominance and fans' prevalence. I did not like losing to the Red Socks in the ALCS. I did not like losing to the Celtics in these very playoffs. I do not like getting mauled by the Patriots every year. I do not like any fan base getting to see enjoy THREE Super Bowl winners and TWO World Series Championships while Cleveland, in best Judge Smails tradition, gets nothing and likes it. These people don't need a basketball title. Fortunately, I don't think they'll get it either.

Lakers in 6

Tuesday, May 27

I approved of that inning

The first inning, Cleveland Indians vs. Chicago White Sox, May 27, 2008, that is.

I approved of Aaron Laffey, not allowing a run to the opposition as usual.

I approved of Jamey Carroll somehow hitting a pitched baseball off of the outfield wall.

I approved of White Sock starter Mark Buehrle throwing a wild pitch and allowing Ben Francisco to hit a sac fly to give the Indians their normal game's complement of runs, i.e. one.

I really approved of the Tribe's two-out plate discipline, with Victor Martinez and Ryan Garko allowing Buehrle to throw the ball wherever the hell he wanted to and subsequently strolling down to 1st base.

I approved of Jhonny Peralta stroking a single to left as White Sock outfielder Carlos Quentin lied and pretended like he caught it. Nice try, buddy.

I super-extra approved of Franklin Gutierrez squashing a Grand Slam (see above photo) right above the Ben Francisco Home Run Rail in left field for the first 5-0 Tribe lead since the (Trot) Nixon administration.

I approved of hearing the fireworks from said home run out of my window, not just on TV.

Finally, I approved of the conversation I had in the elevator following the inning. A group of four people my age (two from each gender) were on board, and it went a bit like this:
Better-looking of the girls: Hi, how are you!
Me: Pretty good, and you?
Girl: Great, thanks!
Me: [Notices their Indians gear] You guys going to the game?
All: Yep.
Me: You just missed a Grand Slam.
Girl: [Shocked]
Suddenly concerned dude checking his BlackBerry: By who?
Me: Guttierez. 5-0 Tribe. The best part of the game is over - you guys may as well go to the bar instead.
Guy: [Thinks carefully about it] If it had been the White Socks, you'd have something there.
Me: Go Tribe!

FYI, I didn't especially care for the top of the 3rd.

Monday, May 26

Burn On Big River, Burn On

I’m not going to do my traditional series reviews - there just doesn’t seem to be a point to go over so many losses. We do have important information to go over here, and the last thing I want to do is bore you.

So Fausto is on the DL for what appears to be a month. The word on the street is that the injury isn’t too serious as the muscle injured is outside, not inside, the joint or something of that nature. With Fausto heading to the DL it appears like this was all planned out ahead of time, with Westbrook ready to return to the rotation. This delays the “what do we do with Laffey?” question for at least another month. With Laffey pitching so well I was a proponent of the “send Laffey to AAA” solution, but again we’ll revisit that near the end of June it looks like.

The Tribe offense, however, is still an enigma. Ben Francisco has done well in the cleanup spot, and who would have guessed he would be this team’s leader in doubles after only playing in 13 games? Of course, one of those doubles should have been a home run, but again this isn’t a series review.

In other Indians action, Jensen Lewis was sent down. This can only be described as somewhat shocking. Lewis, whose velocity has been at least 5 mph lower this year hasn’t been the most awful reliever of late. I can only guess that the Tribe brass think sending him down will do two things. Get him to address this situation, which supposedly is mechanical, and doing so in Buffalo will allow Lewis a better opportunity to focus on his pitching instead of worrying about winning games. Is this really the best time to send him down to call up Edward Mujica? Mujica isn’t even the best reliever of late in Buffalo - Rick “Jack” Bauer is - but, unlike Bauer, Mujica is on the 40-man roster, and so this seems to possibly be only a short-term situation. Another move with Fausto going on the DL is the Indians purchasing the contract of none other than Scott Elarton. Originally, if you remember, Elarton was signed to a minor league contract in the spring to give him an opportunity to be showcased to other teams. However, Elarton’s spring was surprising and now he gets called up. Hey remember Tom Mastny? Maybe Elarton saw him in Buffalo. With the way our bullpen has performed this season and the stellar impression of a long reliever Jorge Julio put on Friday I’m excited to see how Elarton performs.

Finally I wanted to address the Indians' trade situation. What we need is easy - anyone who can hit consistently, and hopefully with power. If they play in the infield, then that is even better. Matt Holliday and Garret Atkins have been named elsewhere and I hear Holliday has a terrible away-from-Coors split and things look shallow in the Indians farm system at third so maybe Atkins isn’t such a bad idea. However, who will the Indians trade? Let’s Go Tribe had a nice post up today about the trade situation regarding the starters. They're all stupid moves in my book, except maybe Byrd. However, any team we’re trading with at this point are probably sellers not buyers and Byrd in the last year of his contract isn’t exactly a great option for the Rockies. So what does that leave us with? Laffey should be untouchable at this point with the loss of C.C. and Byrd next year, but what about Jeremy Sowers? Sowers is a reasonably good pitcher and pitched some really good innings this season except his last start at Cincinnati, where the whole team fell apart. What about Jhonny Peralta? I’m not a good enough baseball analyst to say if Peralta is worth trading at this point. He still hits for power and the SS of the future is mired in an 0-for-season slump and hitting below .200. I don’t like the trade of Peralta right now. So what else do we have? Garko, Aubrey, Gutierrez, Shoppach or a bunch of minor leaguers not yet mentioned? Nothing jumps out at me as being the perfect solution, but this is going to be a hard decision to make. Hopefully the AL Central keeps stumbling along until the Indians' front office and coaches figure this mess out.

Until the other shoe (a trade, a hot streak, the AL Central pulls-away, or some combination of those) drops we’re left with another series with the division leading Chicago White Sox, who own a 27-22 record.

Game 1: Javier Vazquez, RHP (5-3, 3.43) vs. Paul Byrd, RHP (2-4, 4.10)
Game 2: Mark Buehrle, LHP (2-5, 4.82) vs. Aaron Laffey, LHP (2-3, 1.60)
Game 3: Gavin Floyd, RHP (4-3, 2.93) vs. Jake Westbrook, RHP (1-2, 2.73)

Paul Byrd’s last outing was awesome for the first five innings but he went out there and got hammered in the sixth. It will be interesting to see how he bounces back. Based solely off the pitching match-up I like our chances in game 2. Jake’s return from the DL will be a highly anticipated game on Wednesday. Hopefully Jake goes out there like he never left. Being only 4.5 games back of the White Sox is reassuring that the Indians have something to play for. A sweep or at least a series win would do a lot to keep that going.

Go Tribe!

(AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

Friday, May 23

Sorry but you're going to have to wait.

As previously mentioned, I'm in Cleveland for the evening to see a Tribe game live - imagine that. Unfortunately that, combined with the fact that I couldn't plan ahead, means there probably won't be a Tribe recap until the end of the Rangers series.

Sure, I could have written the White Sox recap before the first pitch. It would have gone something like this: The starter did a good job and the Tribe might have even been up 1-0 for a while, but then the other team scored 2 or 3 runs and the game was essentially over. One tidbit is that Ben Francisco scored again yesterday making the last three runs scored over the last two games two by Francisco and one by Aubrey.

One final thing is I'm writing this on Andy's Apple, with its colorful gui and Andy's left-handed mouse, so you can only imagine the testicular fortitude that it's taking me to not go all feminine surrounded by all this white. Call me old fashioned, but back in my day computers were black and baseball players were on steroids and the Indians won games on hitting.

Go Tribe!

TRIBE WEEKEND!!!

Hey, is that title gaudy enough for you? How about:

TRIBE WEEKEND!!!!!!!!&^@*&^YEAH!!*&@^*!!!!

That's right, with the Indians coming off a road trip so disastrous that I refuse to properly update our Tribe sidebar, three-fourths of the FCF crew along with some special guests will be rocking Cleveland and Progressive Field to the tune of all three games against the Texas Rangers this Memorial Day weekend. Nick and Andy, along with loyal reader Bucko, will be at all three games; JHH and his lovely wife will attend tonight, and Milkey will be on hand tonight and Saturday. Check us out if you're there. I'm crunked.

Expect photos (assuming someone provides a camera), drunken stories, and my patented sub-standard baseball analysis. Last year was the first official incarnation of this rich tradition, though we did have unofficial versions like the game where we went to see them lose to the Rangers in 2002 (the Kenny Rogers-Joel Skinner game) and lose to the Twins early in 2004 for Milkey's bachelor party.

Anyway, last year was a tremendous success, resulting in some great times and two Tribe wins over Tampa Bay, including Ben Francisco's game-winning shot to the Your Car Company Here Home Run Porch. The only real disappointment was not getting my pro-Paul-Byrd text messages to appear on the JumboTron. I expect no less from the club this year, especially since I went to all this trouble to relocate myself less than a mile from the stadium for just these kinds of events.

A few miscellaneous bonuses here:

- Tonight will break my string of five straight Tribe games attended with CC Sabathia pitching (4-1). Nothing against the big fellow (especially since he threw a complete game shutout the last time I went), but I like a little diversity, you know? Check the pitchers we get to see in action: Fausto Carmona, Cliff Lee, and CC. That's tight.

- On the other side, who the hell are these guys for the Rangers? I know our team OPS is like .467, but maybe we can break through against these pretend major leaguers.

- In Spanish, the Rangers are "Los Vigilantes," which is at least 500 times cooler than the English version. Why not just get it over with and change it, maybe capture the Latino market? And why don't the Indians have an official spanish-language site? Hell, the White Socks (Los Medias Blancas) do. Maybe I'll start translating my Indians posts.

- Am I going to drink a little bit of beer this weekend? You'd better believe it. There are still quite a few places nearby I haven't checked out, and this seems like an ideal time to explore Gateway a little more fully. By that I mean: hang out in the bar in my apartment building and try to catch lobsters.

- Weather looks awesome - 60's and sunny all three days. Let's hope the Baseball Gods are as benevolent as the Weather Gods.

- We got a variety of seating locations to keep things interesting. Tonight are view boxes, which are like somewhere between the upper deck and field level behind home plate. Tomorrow: the bleachers, even though I was too dumb to use the Pepsi bleacher ticket offer. Oh well. Sunday, I got Nick and I intentionally bad seats ($8) with the idea that we won't actually sit in them. There are plenty of ballpark locations where one can check out the game.

- I'm still working on what gear I'm going to sport to the games, as we all know how strongly that impacts the team's performance. I own three Indians jerseys, one having been stolen from my sister Lance, and three Indians hats. I may try to pick up some wristbands as well. As for the hats - one is a free Progressive Field trucker hat and one is a winter hat, so we'll be going with my prized year 2000 vintage Chief Wahoo blue cap/red bill for all three games. It ain't even a question. Jersey-wise, I'm torn. Much of my vaunted live winning streak was constructed wearing my dark blue/red jersey, and the sole loss I've attended over the past four seasons was in my new home white one (I also posted an Opening Day win in said jersey). I think I'll go with blue for one game and white for one game, though I haven't decided who gets Friday and who gets Sunday. My blue looks a lot like JHH's, so maybe I'll save that for Sunday.

What about Saturday? I'm going with the Penguins jersey, that's what. That's right, Stanley Cup Finals, Game 1. I've gotta show some support, plus Wahoo will still be on the hat.

As always, Go Tribe!

Tuesday, May 20

New lows in offensive baseball-playing

For some weeks now, the Tribe has been excelling at, when they have runners on base, managing to keep those runners on the bases they're occupying whle increasing their out total. For example, they could begin with this situation:

Runner on 2nd, 0 out

and produce this situation:

Runner on 2nd, 1 out


But tonight, they've stepped up their game! They just went from:

Runner on 2nd, 0 out

to:

Runner on 1st, 1 out

Yep, now we're going backwards on the basepaths while we make outs! This is exciting baseball. Following that, the Tribe found themselves unable to record out #2 while having their man on first go backwards one base and then stand on home plate while the next hitter tries to bat. Someday. For now they've settled for transforming that previous scenario into:

Runner on 1st, 2 out

And now, even with Chicago spotting the Tribe an extra baserunner just for fun via an error, Cleveland has recorded the familiar:

No runners on, no runs, 3 outs ljdsvlnvksdjnvkbsdgvjy2g3or78t23BASEBALLlekghewwfeouwfgewiyfgewifubegwifugeifugewifugweikbgu

NBA Playoffs Non-Analysis: Conference Finals

Just so you know, it kills me not to be able to label this article with the "Cavs" tag, but such is life as a sports fan. I'm still happy I got to see the Cavs post another solid year, send Washington packing once again, and take the team with the NBA's best record to the very brink of elimination.

The good news: until the Boston-Detroit series ends and the East title is awarded for 2008, the Cavaliers remain the Eastern Conference Champions!

So, here's to next year. But first,


Eastern Conference Finals

(1)Celtics vs. (2)Pistons
I think most of us figured these would be the last teams standing here, and it should provide for an entertaining series. Sure, I picked the Cavs to knock off the C's in 6, and had they pulled out Game 1 or 5 in Boston they might have done just that, but that was clearly a bit of a vanity pick. It's easy to say now that it's over, but a non-Cavs-fan Andy would have picked the Celtics in 7.

As for this series, you may remember that I picked Detroit as my champion at the front of my first-round analysis, and can't think of a reason to change that. OK, two reasons: the domination that home teams enjoyed in the second round (22-3), and that split that Chauncey Billups did on-court during the Magic series. If he's healthy, I expect him to control Rajon Rondo and lead the Pistons to their third Finals in six years. If not, things could be tougher for Dee-troit, but even with home-court in Boston's...court, how can I pick a team that hasn't won a road game yet against the East's 8 and 4 seeds? I can't and I won't.
Pistons in 6


Western Conference Finals

(1)Lakers vs (3)Spurs
I selected LA as my West champion at the outset, and have no plans to change that now after two convincing series wins to start the playoffs. The battle-tested Spurs should offer more of a challenge than the Nuggets or Yazz did, but I still like LA to advance, leading to a rematch of the Finals from '04. On the other side of the coin, I have picked the Spurs to lose both of their series so far and they have done nothing but fail me and collectively whine about foul calls even more than Doc Rivers. (Incidentally, Doc, give it a rest. You guys got whipped three times in Cleveland and it had nothing to do with officiating. Did you notice how Mike Brown didn't hang everything on the zebras when his team lost? It's called class.)

Like the Cavs, picking the Hornets to topple the defending champs went against my better judgment, and I said as much when I did it. But I'm going to keep picking against San Antonio (less foolishly this time), because I'm tired of them winning, I'm tired of Tim Duncan's eyes popping out of his head every time someone calls a foul on him, tired of Ginobili and Parker flying to the basket and hoping for bailout calls, tired of those cheap light-bulb rodeo graphics in the upper end zone of their arena, and especially weary of Robert "Cheap Shot Bob" Horry. Plus, they only win in odd-numbered years.
Lakers in 7

Monday, May 19

Let us never speak of this weekend, again

After finishing my 26.2 mile race, my wife and mother (my father was in attendance but nowhere to be found) congratulated me and the first thing I said to them was "Let us never speak of the marathon again." That's kind of how I feel writing this post.

So to help with the forgetting of this weekend I've supplied no picture - hopefully that helps. That and I didn't really want to look through the AP photo offerings of happy Reds and head-hung Indians.

How do beat writers do it? Is just finding the little gems that went right, like Ben Francisco (I can't yet just call him by only his last name), or Michael Aubrey finally getting to the majors and hitting a homerun in his first start? Or do they detach themselves from what is still just a meaningless kids' game played by adults making sometimes outrageous amounts of money? Either way. let's get down to my quick series summary so we can get back to what we do best: looking forward and hoping for the best.

OK, to say the least, things didn't go well. First sweep by the Reds over the Indians - not cool. Pitching not stellar except for Carmona, who had no walks. As I've mentioned over at my other blog, my wife was flipping through the channels and I got to enjoy the final two pitches of Saturday's game - again not cool. Did you see Jorge Julio got to pitch? Man, Wedge must have been drunk or something.

I've talked about the disappointing offense before and now it's time to switch gears. What the hell is up with our bullpen? A bad bullpen, I feel, is a more emotional problem, because you're ahead and then some guy whose job is to get three outs comes in and blows it. In that situation you feel justified in singling out one guy on the team for failure, which has its benefits. That and coming at the end of a game makes it that more memorable. Now the offensive struggles, on the other hand, can usually be spread out over at least four or more players and is built up over more than just a inning or game. That and we have all these stats that tell us what these players' averages were their entire career so we always have hope that a long season will allow everyone to rise to at least their median.

So I ask you dear readers (Andy, Nick): what concerns you more right now about the Tribe? The bullpen, the hitting, C.C.'s impending free agency, or the fact that onion will continue to dominate the hot dog race?

Finally moving forward, the Tribe is off today. Thank god I know I needed this day off so I can only imagine this team needed it as well. After playing thirteen games in as many days (one doubleheader allowed for a quasi-break), the Tribe will have a nine-game streak starting tomorrow in Chicago with a three-game series at Swirling Garbage Field. Following Chicago is a weekend series at Progressive Field against some team once run by our current President, and then the White Socks again in Cleveland for three games. Pitching matchups are:

Game 1: C.C. Sabathia, LHP (3-5, 5.47) vs. Jose Contreras, RHP (4-3, 3.35)
Game 2: Paul Byrd, RHP (2-3, 3.61) vs. Javier Vazquez, RHP (4-3, 3.53)
Game 3: Aaron Laffey, LHP (2-2, 1.35) vs. Mark Buehrle, LHP (2-5, 5.27)

Game 2 begs the question of: what kind of Paul Byrd outing will this be? Game 3 is being held on what mlb.com tells me is Indiana Jones Day. Just to make you possibly feel old the movie Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) is a good four years older than starter Aaron Laffey (1985). It will be interesting to see how much playing time Aubrey gets before being sent down.

One final note: 2007 AL Cy Young Winner CC Sabathia is on the mound this Tuesday as the Tribe Battles the Chicago White Sox. For every strikeout made by any Indians pitcher on Tuesday, May 20 in Chicago, fans can receive $1 off lower reserved, upper box, mezzanine or bleacher tickets for the June 10 Dollar Dog Night game vs. the Minnesota Twins. Tickets can be purchased on indians.com from 10 minutes after the conclusion of Tuesday’s game through Midnight, Sunday, May 25 simply by visiting Indians.com and entering the password STRIKEOUT. (Minimum Ticket Price: $1) Andy's note: I like that they're at least getting that out of you; they don't want CC notching 17 K's and having fans pick up bleacher tix for (-$1).

Let the Hype Begin:

Given the current rotation the writer of this post and the two founders of the FCF blog will be in attendance for Fridays game against the Walker Texas Rangers with one Fausto Carmona on the mound.

Go Tribe!

Sunday, May 18

Cavs fall short, Boston advances

The whole series had come down to one game. One game in Boston to decide who would move on to face the Detroit Pistons in the Eastern Finals. In the 2004 film Miracle, Kurt Russell's Herb Brooks states that "Great moments are born from great opportunity." That's exactly what the Cavs had: an opportunity to steal a series from a team with far more firepower. Unfortunately it was not to be.



Quarterly Analysis

First Quarter

The remnants of pregame pyrotechnics made TD Banknorth Arena look more like the site of a bonfire than an NBA arena, but as the smoke cleared Boston sprinted to a 12-4 lead. The Cavaliers looked sluggish; they were having trouble getting anything established inside, and they weren't able to keep Boston off of the offensive boards.

Although the Cavs shot a gut-wrenching 27.8 percent in the first quarter, they were able to weather the early storm by holding the Celtics to just 38.1 percent shooting. LeBron James was finally able to free himself a bit to drive inside and get to the free throw line, and at quarter's end the Cavaliers trailed by just five, 18-13.


Second Quarter
Sloppy turnovers and a sharp shooting Paul Pierce bothered the Cavaliers early in the second quarter, and Boston opened a nine-point lead. The Cavs valiantly battled back, but whether it was officiating or lucky bounces (a certain Paul Pierce three comes to mind), everything was going Boston's way early in the second. With 6:05 to play in the half, the Celtics had increased their lead to 12, 35-23.

Mike Brown went to a smaller lineup for the last few minutes of the half and the Cavs experienced some success. With that small lineup, the Cavaliers were able to slow Boston's momentum and cut into the Celtics' lead. At the half, the Cavs trailed by 10, 50-40.

Frankly, the Cavs were lucky to be down just 10 at the break; Boston was beating them on the offensive glass (5 to 4), in turnovers (4 to 8), shooting percentage (47.1 to 38.9 percent), free throw attempts (14/20 to 11/15), and 3-point shooting (4/8 to 1/6). Other than LeBron James (23 points), no Cleveland player had more than four points, and Paul Pierce led all scorers with 26 points. In spite of the Celtics seemingly receiving every break in the first half, the Cavaliers were still very much alive, trailing by only 10.


Third Quarter
The Cavs came out of the locker room determined to whittle away at the Boston lead, but instead of chipping away at the lead, they almost eradicated it by way of a 9-2 run. During half time, Mike Brown apparently remembered that the Cavs have a 7' 3" Lithuanian center who is a pretty solid scorer, because the Cavaliers were made a concerted effort to get Zydrunas Ilgauskas the basketball in the third quarter.

Boston answered, but the Cavs stayed hot, and with a tad under 6:00 left in the period the Celtics led by just three. Just as the Cavs had no answer for Paul Pierce (33 points midway through the third), the Celtics had no answer for LeBron James (30 points).

The Celtics made a push, but the Cavs hung on, and by the end of the quarter the deficit was five points (73-68). On the road, the Cavaliers had to like their chances; down just five points with the best fourth quarter player in basketball on their side.


Fourth Quarter
The teams traded points as the quarter began, and three minutes in, the score was 77-72, Boston. Watching this game, you had to appreciate how evenly-matched the two teams were. Each time one team scored a crucial basket, the other answered to kill that momentum.

With 3:07 to play, the Cavs found themselves down three points. Boston got a bucket from PJ Brown, and Cleveland got a pair of free throws from Zydrunas Ilgauskas after he was fouled high and hard by PJ Brown (a Flagrant I, in my opinion).

The Cavs were close, and King James got them closer. James picked Paul Pierce's pocket, and exploded down the floor for a thunderous dunk, cutting the Boston lead to slimmest of margins. With just 2:20 remaining, the table was set for a fantastic finish.

After the teams traded misses, PJ Brown drained an impressive 20-footer to restore Boston's 3-point lead. Delonte West missed a wide open three for the Cavaliers, and although Boston gathered the rebound, Zydrunas Ilgauskas was able to tie up James Posey to force a jump ball. The Cavs had to like their odds with that matchup, but Paul Pierce was able to grab the loose ball and call a quick timeout.

Boston had possession with 58.1 to play. Paul Pierce dribbled the shot clock away and passed off to Kevin Garnett, who missed a long jump shot. The Cavs pushed the ball down the floor, but instead of taking an open three-pointer in rhythm, LeBron James drove inside for a short, off balance jump shot. James' jumper didn't fall, and although LeBron drew a great deal of contact the refs kept their whistles in their pockets.

The Cavaliers were forced to foul to extend the game, and Boston took care of business at the charity stripe. Sasha Pavlovic drained a clutch three, but it wasn't enough. Final: Boston 97, Cleveland 92.


Quick Hits

Just like the old days.
It is a little ironic that the more the game progressed, the more it felt like one of the old duels that LeBron James and Paul Pierce used to have prior to the arrival of Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett. James dropped 45 points, and Pierce countered with 41. James and Pierce also covered each other defensively all series , which is probably one of the reasons why the two scorers struggled mightily at different junctures throughout the series.

Where's that tall guy? Zydrunas Ilgauskas is the Cavaliers' second best offensive player, and is usually their second option on offense. Apparently the Cavs lost track of the Lanky Lithuanian, who scored eight points on only eight shots.

The Cavs tried to establish Ilgauskas at the onset of the third quarter, then promptly forgot about him again. Four Cavaliers took as many or more shots than Ilgauskas, which is unacceptable. Ilgauskas is an efficient and consistent scoring option, and the only Cleveland player who should take more shots than Z is LeBron James.

Give credit where it's due. If Mike Brown's detractors needed proof that talk of firing Brown was both ridiculous and premature, this series should be more than sufficient. It's an overly simplistic perspective, but the Celtics have three All-Stars (Allen, Garnett, Pierce), whereas the Cavs have just one (James). Boston had home court advantage, they are thus far undefeated at TD Banknorth Garden in the playoffs, and they were the best home team during the regular season. Both teams have deep benches, but the Cavs dealt with significant turnover at the trading deadline and key injuries, and were not at full strength for the decisive seventh game (injury to Daniel Gibson).

When you look at things that way, you have to wonder how the Cavs even won a game against Boston, let alone three (and they almost stole games one and seven). To say it plainly, there's no way the Cavs could have had the success that they did if Coach Brown puts them at the large disadvantage that his critics claim. The guy isn't perfect, but he gets results; the worst the Cavs have ever finished a season under Brown is the seventh game of the Eastern Semifinals. In spite of that, many Cavs fans still refuse to cut Mike Brown any slack, and it doesn't make much sense. Maybe some people are just stubborn.

I said he wasn't perfect. Mike Brown made some questionable decisions regarding the rotation in this final game. A largely ineffective Sasha Pavlovic played more than 35 minutes, reserve big men Anderson Varejao (11 minutes) and Joe Smith (16 minutes) were under-utilized, and once again Devon Brown didn't take off his warmups. There must be something goofy going on behind the scenes with Devon Brown, because guys don't go from the starting rotation to zero minutes overnight.

It wasn't the free throws. Much has been made of the fact that home teams are 22-2 in the semifinals of these playoffs. Some have suggested that officials have favored the home teams, and some questionable fouls calls in the Lakers/Yazz (flute) series have been cited as evidence. By contrast, the officiating in the Cavs/Celtics series has been nothing if not consistent.

In Boston, the Cavs and Celtics attempted 32.25 and 28.25 free throws per game, respectively. In Cleveland, the Cavs and Celtics took 25.33 and 21 free throws per game, respectively. The disparity, in favor of the Cavaliers in both instances, is about four attempts per game. This suggests that the Cavaliers averaged more trips to the line because they have a player in LeBron James who draws more fouls than any other player in the series. There appears to be no "home team bias." Whether or not all of the foul calls were correct, they were very uniform in their frequency.

Too much of a good thing. When Boston's pregame fireworks have become so excessive that they're giving Ben Wallace vertigo prior to game two, something's wrong. When Boston's pregame fireworks produce so much residual smoke that it's difficult for fans to see the court on television, something's wrong. If you want a perfect example of the law of diminishing marginal utility in action, this is it. David Stern has alluded to limiting such displays in the future.

The Jerk Store called, and they're running out of Boston Fans. As if the front-runners walking around the country wearing Red Socks hats weren't enough, Cleveland fans had to tolerate even more Boston fans for home games at The Q, and watch them on television for road games. The fans at TD Banknorth Garden jeered LeBron James when he appeared to be injured at least twice during the series, and they chanted "bull-s***" in response to perfectly legitimate foul calls. Good to see that they're keeping things classy up in Beantown.

Someone turn Van Gundy's mic off. Jeff Van Gundy has commentated during a few Cavs games this season, and during that handful of games (this is just off the top of my head, mind you), he's called for the NBA to abolish their foul limit (six per player), claimed that players should carry razor blades to cut themselves (in order to stop the game when advantageous to their team) and has tried (and failed miserably) to quote Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men. "Hey Jeff, what's your favorite planet? Mine's the sun!"

That's a wrap, folks. For Cavs fans, it's been a year that has been equal parts fun and frustration. We had to deal with holdouts, injuries, and a tough playoff loss. By the same token, we no longer have to watch Larry Hughes beat up on the rims at The Q, the Cavs knocked off walking punch line DeShawn Stevenson and the Washington Wizards in the first round, and it looks like the Cavs should be in a good position to upgrade the roster in the off-season. Thanks for reading, and as always, be sure to check out TheClevelandFan and FCF for news and notes on the Cavs during the summer!


(AP Photo/ Winslow Townson)

Friday, May 16

Re-evaluating Brown

After reading Nick's article evaluating Cavaliers Coach Mike Brown (actually while reading it in draft format), I had a few things I'd like to add. In particular, while our friend makes many good points, I think Nick grades out Brown's offensive coaching too harshly.

I found some interesting numbers on ESPN's site from John Hollinger. What we find is not as great a disparity between offensive and defensive performance as one might think, using the metric of points scored or allowed per 100 possessions. We see that during this past regular season, the Cavs placed 19th in offensive efficiency and 11th in defensive efficiency. They're not a top-level scoring club, but not embarrassing themselves either.

In the playoffs, the Cavs are 11th of the 16 qualifying clubs offensively, putting them at basically the same percentile as regular season. Defensively they rank second, trailing only Boston. Make no mistake how this Cavalier club makes its money in the postseason.

Back to the offense. When you factor in that, as Nick says, they don't really have a whole lot of offensive weapons other then LeBron, and considering that they don't get too many easy points off of fast breaks (how much of that Brown is responsible for is another debate), Coach Brown must be doing at least an adequate job on offense. I would bump the grade up to C-, maybe C.


The other point I'd like to make in Coach Brown's favor falls under the "intangibles" section, which I might have re-headed "in-game strategy." Before that, let me say that I fully agree with Nick's points about Devin Brown and Damon Jones being nailed to the bench instead of nailing shots this series. I thought Brown (the player) gave the Cavs good minutes all season and contributed quick scoring on a number of occasions where the club was struggling to find baskets, and I'm surprised they haven't taken advantage of that in the playoffs. Likewise with Damon Jones and his 3-point marksmanship.

The other thing I wanted to mention was that (Coach) Brown typically does a good job identifying his best late-game lineups. The Cavs have recently been one of the best 4th-quarter clubs in the NBA, leading the league in come-from-behind wins this past season, and part of that is having the right guys on the floor at the end. I first noticed this matchup strength in the 2006 playoffs, when the Cavs weren't really even that good, but Brown put them in a position to win by finding an effective closing crew in LBJ, Marshall, Varejao (then largely unproven), Eric Snow (then still alive), and Damon Jones/Flip Murray. Since that time, Coach Brown has proven adept at making in-game adjustments to find the right mix of players to secure wins.

Let's hope he finds a winning combination for Games 6 and 7.

Thursday, May 15

Tribe Sweep & Off To The Nati

As you may have heard, the consecutive scoreless streak by the Tribe is over at forty four and a third innings. However, the Tribe did win today's day game 4-2 over the Oakland A's. Aaron Laffey picked up the win having pitched seven innings without giving up a run but did have an error that resulted in an unearned run, kind of.

The highlight of this series has to be the amazing pitching, especially from the starters. Following the back-to-back nine-inning shutouts from Lee and Carmona, from the last series with Toronto, Paul Byrd had his finest performance of the year going seven and a third and striking out seven without giving up a run in a 4-0 Tribe win. The gem of this series and maybe this homestand came from C.C. going nine scoreless innings and striking out eleven on the way to a 2-0 Tribe victory. Laffey's performance today lowers his ERA to 1.25 and evens his record at 2-2.

The good news for Laffey is that Jason Tyner was sent down today to make room for Jeremy Sowers to pitch tomorrow. That looks to give Laffey at least one more start before Jake Westbrook returns. What do you do with a guy like Laffey at this point? I can only imagine the Indians front office will send him to AAA to continue to start every 5th game. Other options include putting Byrd in the bullpen, but how do you do that after Tuesday's performance?

The offense hasn't looked as bad these last few games, but that is kind of relative. Ryan Garko had a home run in back to back games. Travis Hafner had two RBI in the series. Ben Francisco continues to hit the ball well too.

This was a big series for the Tribe. The A's came in a half game ahead of the Angels and leave one game behind. The Tribe hadn't fared too well before against the A's this season but was able to win the season series thanks to the sweep at home. Yes, thanks to the MLB schedule the Tribe has now played all their games against Oakland for the season but hasn't played more than 4 series against the AL Central.

While everyone in the national media has been concentrating on the starting pitching, and I really do enjoy the Tribe getting as much positive media as possible, the intriguing pitching situation is currently happening in the bullpen. With Rafael Betancourt struggling recently it appears as if Masahide Kobayashi could be pitching his way into the closer's role. Masa got his first major league save this week and picked up his second save today coming in after Betancourt loaded the bases with only one out. If Joe Borowski returns soon it will be interesting to see how Wedge uses him and how long a leash he gives both Borowski and Betancourt in the near-term.

So the Tribe now sit atop the AL Central with a 22-19 record and winners of eight of their last ten. The second place Twins are a game and a half behind at .500. The AL Central isn't the division it has been the last few years. That's not to say the Detroit Tigers may not get hot and win a few games but you have to be surprised they sit at 16-25 and six games back at this point in the season.

So the Tribe are off to Cincinnati to participate in that wonderful experiment called inter-league play.

Game 1: Jeremy Sowers, LHP (0-0, 5.06) vs. Johnny Cueto, RHP (2-4, 5.91)
Game 2: Fausto Carmona, RHP (4-1, 2.40) vs. Aaron Harang, RHP (2-5, 3.32)
Game 3: Cliff Lee, LHP (6-0, 0.67) vs. Edinson Volquez, RHP (6-1, 1.12)

Hmm, what game looks the best on paper? Well I'm going to go out on a limb here and say Sunday's matchup of Lee and Volquez with a combined ERA under 2.00. This should be an interesting series. Expect to see Hafner mostly pinch hit but may get one start at first base.

Go Tribe!

(AP Photo/Mark Duncan)

Off base

In the most recent issue of Sports Illustrated, there is a poll taken of 495 current Major League Baseball players that asks: Which team has the best starting pitching in baseball? The results:

Boston Red Socks 25%
Arizona Diamondbacks 19%
Detroit Tigers 17%
Seattle Mariners 8%
New York Mets 7%

That's it. (16 teams received votes, but these are the top 5). Can you think of a starting staff that maybe should have been included, one that recently ran off 44 straight scoreless innings? (And no, I don't mean the Oakland Athletics, who had baseball's best starters' ERA when the poll was conducted).

I'm confused

I'm here at work during lunchtime with an MLB GameCast window open, and I can't for the life of me figure out what it means. At the top, in big letters, it says "Cleveland 3, Oakland 1." What the heck?

OK, the "3" by Cleveland's name I understand - it means that the Indians have scored three runs to this point in the game. The vertical line next to Oakland, however, I don't get. I've been watching Cleveland Indians baseball for six days now, and ther is ALWAYS an oval, kind of like: "0" next to the opponent's name. I want to know how Oakland got that stick and I want to know now.

Further, non-absurd investigation reveals that the run allowed was unearned, meaning Indians starters can still (as of 1:19 PM) claim a lengthy streak of not allowing any earned runs. What allowed the run to score was a throwing error by pitcher Aaron Laffey. I've always had mixed feelings about how that should count in the statistics: sure, runs that score only with the benefit of errors are unearned, I get that, but you're the pitcher. By any reasonable definition, if you made the error, you earned the run, no? This goes double for throwing errors - anything arm-related should definitely count against ERA.

Get your Forest Green out of the Forest City!

I wanted to get a quick post today in to say that I'm looking forward to the FIRST PLACE Cleveland Indians trying to sweep their three-game series with the Oakland A's today at 12:05. Athletics batters have thus far not been able to push a run across in two games against Tribe pitching, with Paul Byrd pitching 7 1/3 shutout innings and CC tossing a complete game shutout in the first two contests. Aaron Laffey, he of the odd 1.83 ERA yet 1-2 record, will try to extend the Indians' starters' remarkable scoreless streak, which now stands at 43 1/3 frames.

Because baseball is the sport where players and teams tend towards the mean so much, I find streaks like this one fascinating. Like when the A's won 23 games in a row a few years ago - in a game that's always driving towards averages and .500's, it was neat to see such a feat pulled off. Likewise with the Cleveland rotation's run of goose eggs. Watch out, Hershiser.

As for the club in first place - it sure is nice to see, huh? After all the ink that's been spilled (here and in any other forum that deals with the Tribe) about the club's struggles at the plate, which have been justifiably well-documented, the club sits atop the AL Central with a 21-19 mark. Note that it hasn't come cheaply either, as the Tribe owns the best run differential in the division and second-best in the entire American League! The only team better is...you guessed it...Oakland. A Tribe victory by four or more runs today (i.e. the Indians scoring four or more runs) will put us atop the coveted Pythagorean Wins Standings.

Go Tribe!

Wednesday, May 14

Coach Brown's Report Card

No Cleveland team has enjoyed more recent success than the Cavaliers. Coached by Mike Brown and fueled by the superhuman powers of LeBron James, the Cavs have reached the Eastern Semifinals in three consecutive seasons. Tied at two games apiece with the Boston Celtics, the Cavaliers have a legitimate chance to make the Eastern Finals for the second straight year. Conventional wisdom would suggest that a coach like Mike Brown, who's made the playoffs three years in a row, would be revered; not the case. While Brown should by no means be immune to valid criticism, both message boards and talk shows are abuzz with fans calling for Brown's dismissal.

Coaching professional sports can be a tricky business; when a team is winning the coach is often too generously praised, and when a team is losing the coach can be a convenient scapegoat. The funny thing about all of the screaming to axe Coach Brown is that it comes in the midst of the most success the Cavaliers franchise has ever experienced.

Most of the complaints about Brown pertain to the team's offense. While the Cavaliers' offense certainly stagnates from time to time and has room for improvement, one can't employ such tunnel vision when evaluating a coach. In other words, if we're going to judge Coach Brown, we need to consider everything that he does (good and bad), not just one facet of his job. Let's take a closer look at what Mike Brown brings to the table.

Author's note: these grades are far from scientific, they're based solely on my insight and analysis. I still expect them to make more sense than Mel Kiper's.


Offense

We'll start with offense, which is without a doubt the aspect of his job for which Brown takes the most heat. The Cavs have a wide variety of offensive talents, but the obvious headliner is LeBron James. James is a unique talent, with the ability to drive for layups practically at will, an above average jump shot, superb ball handling skills, and athleticism that borders on supernatural. But beyond James, the only other offensive blue-chipper on the roster is Zydrunas Ilgauskas.

Ilgauskas is one of the best jump shooting centers in the league, and only Yao (bling bling) Ming might be able to give Z a run for his money. In addition to being able to stretch the floor, Ilgauskas is a terrific offensive rebounder, scoring several points per game via tip-in following an offensive rebound (some say he's "the best tip drill man in the league").

Beyond Z, there are some quality shooters who aren't great ball handlers, namely Daniel Gibson, Damon Jones, and Delonte West, with West being the best fit for the point guard position out of the three. Sasha Pavlovic is a decent offensive player who can shoot a little and create off the dribble, but he's been unable to find a rhythm this season due injuries and his holdout. Devon Brown can slash to the rim from time to time, but he isn't a very good outside shooter.

Anderson Varejao and Ben Wallace are defensive players who basically non-factors on offense. Joe Smith is a quality scoring big man to bring off the bench. Rounding things out are resident stiffs Dwayne Jones (averages more fouls than points per game) and Wally Szczerbiak (he can score, but for every good shooting night he has three that are atrocious). Outside of LeBron James, this is a team of stand-still shooters who simply aren't all that talented offensively. The "Showtime" Lakers, these guys are not.

Conceding that this isn't an overly talented club on offense, Mike Brown's offense doesn't seem particularly creative. The James/Ilgauskas pick and fade is the only play that consistently succeeds, and otherwise much of the team's success depends on LeBron's ability to drive the lane and either score or kick the ball out to an open shooter. This lack of set plays(or quality plays, as is more likely the case) makes the Cavs far more prone to "LeBron watching;" just standing around waiting for James to make something happen.

More than anything, the Cavs need a guard (not necessarily a point guard) who can slash to the rim and complement LeBron. If Danny Ferry can find this type of player, and that might be a possibility over the summer with all of the expiring contracts the Cavs will have, it would take pressure off of LeBron and keep opposing defenses honest. Larry Hughes had the ability to be that slasher that the Cavs so desperately need(ed), but Hughes was rendered largely ineffective by his intense love of his jump shot and his reluctance to drive into the lane.

While Brown lacks dynamic offensive talent with the exceptions of James and Ilgauskas, that doesn't excuse the Cavaliers' penchant to become inert on offense for minutes at a time. Complaints about the Cleveland offense bear verity, but as frustrating as it is, this offense is going nowhere for the time being. In a few weeks (or hopefully months, rather) when they're out of the playoffs, the Cavs will certainly revisit their offense, but for now fans will just have to grind their teeth and gut it out.

Like last summer, I will advocate the hiring of a wizard offensive assistant to help Brown in his weakest area. It was troubling when the Cavs didn't make such a move on the coaching staff last year, and if they fail to do so this season it should be viewed as a major indication that this club isn't very good at identifying and addressing their internal weaknesses. That isn't the mark of a quality organization.

And one more thing: Brown appears to adopt new offensive schemes on a whim. Doesn't it seem like Coach Brown is installing a new offense every summer? This could mean a combination of two things; either 1) Brown realizes that his offense stinks and is grasping at straws for a more effective version, and/or 2) Brown is easily taken in by trendy new offenses. While it would be encouraging to know that Brown was aware of his offense's problems, it would be equally disappointing to know that he's thus far been unable to instate an offense that can perform with any consistency.

Grade: D


Defense
Nobody is denying Mike Brown's strength: defense, or more specifically, team defense. When Coach Brown arrived in Cleveland he started the painful process of remaking the Cavs into a defense-first team, partly in the mold of the San Antonio Spurs. Like the Spurs, the Cavs were going to rebound, play solid defense, and let their star player (in this case LeBron James, as opposed to Tim Duncan) take over late in the game. That was ultimately the formula that carried the Cavaliers all the way to the NBA Finals last year.

This transition didn't happen overnight, due largely to the Cavs' roster being filled with players more known for their offense than their defense. With the exceptions of Larry Hughes and Eric Snow, the Cavs didn't have players who were lauded for their defensive prowess. Given the circumstances, Brown was forced to turn lemons into lemonade.

Brown convinced Sasha Pavlovic that if Pavlovic wanted to play, he had to shore up his defense. Under Brown's tutelege, LeBron James has developed into an above average, and borderline premier defender. Coach Brown has kept Zydrunas Ilgauskas, a huge defensive liability, from being exploited by opposing teams.

This year Brown was faced with the challenge integrating four new players and waving 'goodbye' to his best perimeter defender, Larry Hughes, at mid-season. The upside to losing Hughes was that it allowed the Cavaliers to add Ben Wallace. Wallace, although not the beast on the inside that he once was, still plays above average interior defense.

Below are the Cavs' points allowed in the playoffs for each of the last three seasons.

2006: 93.5 (13 games, including 2 overtime games)
2007: 86.7 (20 games, 1 overtime game)
2008: 87.9 (through 10 games)

Even when forced to add four new players to the rotation, Mike Brown's 2008 squad has thus far performed similarly to their '07 counterparts. Brown deserves kudos for that. Once again, if the Cavs advance to the Eastern Finals it will be more a result of their defense than their offense.

If there is one small flaw with Mike Brown's defense that usually isn't taken advantage of by opponents, it's the way the big men rotate to defend the pick and roll. We frequently see Zydrunas Ilgauskas at the top of the key, sometimes even beyond the three-point line, in an effort to defend the pick and roll. This leaves adversaries with a golden opportunity to send their forward/center to the hoop, wide open for an easy layup. Why teams teams don't identify and exploit this flaw is beyond me. (The team that frequently burned the Cavs when Z showed high was New Jersey.)

At any rate, the Cavaliers should actually become a better defensive team as they re-shape the roster to fit Mike Brown's scheme. The Cavs have some big contracts coming off the books next season which will allow them flexibility in the trade (2008) and free agent (2009) markets, and there's a rumor that they will have some of those cool "draft pick" things this year. After two quiet summers, the Cavs should look to make big improvements this year.

Grade: A-


Intangibles
To "grade" intangibles almost seems contradictory, but I'll give it my best shot. The allotment of playing time and the management of a rotation is probably one of the easiest parts of coaching to criticize. As the saying goes, hindsight is 20-20, and it's always easy to ask "Why didn't you play this guy instead of that guy?"

With that in mind, Coach Brown needs to make some adjustments to his handling of the rotation. Brown doesn't seem to play favorites, but he definitely has a dog house. Exhibit A: Damon Jones. Jones is a lousy defender, but the guy makes baskets. Jones was having his best season in Wine & Gold, shooting over 41-percent from downtown. Due to his defensive shortcomings, Jones couldn't buy playing time down the stretch and he's only seen a few minutes during garbage time in these playoffs.

While Jones shouldn't get starting minutes, he's a three-point specialist who can help the Cavaliers by making threes at a high percentage. Considering the Cavs' desperate need for guys who can consistently knock down those long distance shots, to rule out playing Jones altogether is nothing short of lunacy.

And then there's Wally Szczerbiak, whose promotion to the starting lineup over Devon Brown has become something of a sticking point for me during these playoffs. I'll concede that when he's on, Szczerbiak is more valuable than Brown in the starting five. But the problem is that Szczerbiak is cold far more often than he's hot. When cold, Szczerbiak is a huge defensive liability. In 10 playoff games, Szczerbiak has basically had 3 good games, and 7 that weren't so good.

Mike Brown needs some sort of litmus test to determine whether or not to give Wally is hot. Maybe give Szczerbiak five minutes at the start of the game, and if he isn't hitting his shots, sit him down? That's the best I can come up with.

Another curious trait inherent to the Cavaliers during the Mike Brown era is the club's tendency to play up or down to its level of competition. Over the last few years the Cavs have blown dozens of games to lousy teams, and there's no excuse for that. On the other hand, the Cavs have risen up to defeat teams that were probably their superior almost as often as they've phoned it in against the dregs of the league. So as much as Brown can be bashed for letting his team play flat and uninspired against the NBA's bottom feeders, he deserves credit for the Cavaliers' propensity to play their best against the cream of the crop.

This season has presented the Cavaliers with some unique challenges. Whether it was getting the team to gel after the big trade, enduring the holdouts of Pavlovic and Varejao, persevering through injuries to Gibson, Gooden, Ilgauskas, James, Pavlovic, Varejao, Wallace, et cetera, the Cavaliers have bent, but they've never broken. The one constant through all of the team's woes was Mike Brown. As much as his critics may not want to admit it, Brown kept the Cavs together this season, as he continuously kept them focused on the next game, and not on offering excuses.

But perhaps the most important intangible that Brown brings to table -- one that is frequently overlooked -- is that LeBron James seems to like him. Whether "old school" fans like it or not, the short-term and long-term fate of the franchise is dependent almost solely on keeping Flight 23 in the Forest City. To do so, the Cavs should do just about everything short of busting James out of prison in order to keep their 23-year old superstar happy. Retaining a head coach that seems to have King James' stamp of approval is a must, and James' endorsement is a huge plus for Mike Brown.

Grade: B


Verdict
There's plenty to like about Mike Brown; he's a brilliant defensive mind, he keeps the team focused on themselves, not external forces out of their control, and he is well-liked by most of the players, most notably LeBron James. Brown also isn't without his shortcomings; his offensive schemes are overly simplistic and the Cavs have been prone to long scoring droughts, he sometimes can't see the forest through the trees (Damon Jones' ability to make shots vs. Damon Jones' defense), and he has thus far been unable to get the Cavs to treat every game with an equal level of importance.

All things considered, to advocate sacking Brown at this point completely premature. Give the Cavs another off-season to add a player to be the figurative Robin to LeBron's Batman, and bring in an offensive assistant coach to help Brown revise his scheme, and I'm betting most of these problems will be rectified. If a year from now the Cavs have that second fiddle and their own version of Rob Chudzinski, yet they still have the same problems, then discussion of whether or not Brown should be canned will be valid. Until such a time, fans simply need to be patient.

(Getty Images Photo)

Belated Preview & Garko Smash

OK I don’t want to be monopolizing the FCF here, but isn’t there some basketball going on? No? Anyway a baseball game was played tonight by the Tribe. Travis Hafner had a RBI for the first time in like nine games or something (specific stats aren’t important to me, OK?) This particular one, Hafner’s 460th, put the Tribe up 1-0 in the first and broke the tie he had with Andre Thornton for the most RBI by an Indian DH. Paul Byrd went a terrific seven and a third scoreless innings, striking out seven. Byrd was the recipient of some fine defense by Sizemore, Dellucci and Cabrera. The defense over this stretch at home has been part of the reason why the starter's ERA's have been steadily decreasing. Starting pitchers now have 34 consecutive scoreless innings. So, to recap: Byrd and relief, Perez for one batter and Kobayashi for the rest, awesome. The offense had some clutchness with two-out walks and hits resulting in all the RBI's with the majority coming from Ryan Garko's three-run home run, his first since the 17th of April, that gave the Tribe some breathing room in the eight. Tribe wins 4-0.

Game 2: Joe Blanton, RHP (2-5, 3.82) vs. C.C. Sabathia, LHP (2-5, 6.55)
Game 3: Greg Smith, LHP (2-2, 3.00) vs. Aaron Laffey, LHP (1-2, 1.83)

I like today’s Blanton-C.C. matchup of two and five starting aces. The weather may not favor a game getting done today, with t-storms at a 70% chance. Thursday’s series finale with the A’s is a 12:05 pm day game.

In case you hadn’t heard, Jeremy Sowers is scheduled to pitch Friday at Cincinnati. It sure is nice to have Aaron Laffey and Sowers to fill in situations like this.

Jake Westbrook threw a simulated game against the hard-hitting trio of Tyner, Marte, and Carroll. I’m told these three guys bat against Jake until reaching three outs at which time Jake takes a normal length, simulated between-innings break. Then Westbrook goes out there again until reaching a specified pitch count. I wonder if they have ghost runners? Supposedly Tyner said that these things are pretty hard on a hitter given the number of time you have to face the pitcher and it’s hard for the batters to maintain as much adrenaline for the situation compared to the pitcher who I’m sure is just excited to be facing live batters again. Either way the word around the clubhouse was the Westbrook’s pitches had good movement and he felt good enough to hope that all he’ll need is one rehab start.

Borowski is scheduled to throw a simulated save situation (I guess) today so we’ll see how that goes. I wonder if Borowski isn’t so much on a pitch count but will instead pitch until he gives up three runs for his simulated game. You know just so he can carry that feeling with him to the showers like usual.

Speaking of pitching, the Tribe now has the lowest starter ERA in the AL at 3.16. Hey we’re winning! Oakland is second at 3.54.

Tom Hamilton mentioned last night that the Rays of Tampa are now six games above .500, which is the highest they have ever been. Given this amazing start the Florida fans are so excited about their team had a whopping 13,000 in attendance against the Yankees last night. Hamilton speculated that 10,000 of those had to be Yankee fans. He then berated Florida for having a team as a joke and sees no reason why MLB is in Florida. Well, I hate to point out the winning traditions of the Marlins, but . . .

On tap for the Tribe following this home-stand against the A’s is a three game inter-league tilt against the Reds of Cincinnati in the 'Nati. So we get to see the likes of Sowers, Carmona, and Cliff Lee hit, supposedly. Of course given the right situation we also may get to see C.C. pinch hit, a guy who I hear had DVD’s made up of his homerun at Cincinnati three years ago (a game this blogger attended) and gave them to his friends as Christmas gifts.

Go Tribe!
(AP Photo/Mark Duncan)

Tuesday, May 13

Outs are fun!

Couple of quick thoughts on the Tribe:

1) Yes, we're not always putting a whole lot of runs across (it's more a question of inconsistency than total runs, though overall scoring is down a bit), but I tire of the TV announcing crew constantly advocating giving away outs. Our batters are making more outs, so the solution is...make more outs! On purpose some times! I'm being reductionist, but "moving runners" isn't, in the long-run, going to win games.

I think what really bugs me is how they always put things like bunting and stealing under the super-overused heading of "aggressive," which in modern sports announcing is used as a synonym for "good." You know what seems like an "aggressive" strategy to me? Using all three of your outs to bat.


2) As I write, the Tribe is .500 and has a +23 run differential. They are just 1 game out of first place. Baseball Prospectus gives a 24% chance of winning the division (26.7% to win the wild card) using performance so far. The odds go up to 54.8% for the division and 61% for the playoffs using PECOTA player projections. We're doing alright! Fans are still pretty nervous about the club's prospects, and I think it's because of the close games the Tribe plays and their pitching-first mentality. If they had the same run differential but had scored and yielded 50 more runs, people would be less concerned. I think it's easier to appreciate a team that wins 10-8 slugfests over one that wins 3-1 pitcher's duels.

We'll be just fine.


3) Cliff Lee's season so far is absurd. There's really nothing I can add.

You Mean Regressive Field, Right?

Oh the hope and blogging of this team finding a "turning point" springs eternal.

Wedge is not happy.

Cabrera had an unassisted triple play and threw the ball into the stands, d'oh.

A good doubleheader summary has already been written.

Carmona and Lee combined for eighteen scoreless innings but only one of them did the Tribe win. How does this happen? Oh now I remember.

Wait, wait, wait we took three of four. Yeah, but that doesn't mean I have to like it. See now I'm having a conversation with myself, which isn't going to make for good reading later.

I'm busy getting over a case of car lag.

The A's are coming into town.

RHP Paul Byrd (1-3, 4.28 ERA) vs. RHP Justin Duchscherer (3-1, 2.45) at 7:05 tonight;

I promise better writing in the future. Another often repeated statement, I'm full of them.

(AP Photo/Amy Sancetta)

Sunday, May 11

Sunday, Around the Horn

Winning four of the last five, must feel really good for the Tribe. With a big win over Roy Halladay Friday and just an offensive explosion last night maybe this team is turning the corner. I'll most likely post a series review Tuesday but now I just wanted to get some things down before I forget them.

DiaTribe has a nice mini-rant during his consistently good Lazy Sunday post on the perceived dislike of Dellucci by the Indians faithful. I for one have never really singled out Dellucci as a drag on this team. I did criticize his sub .150 spring training average and then his sore forearm injury but I praised him after his return. But that was all spring training. He has emerged as a reliable veteran presence and I hear he sports a beard too which is never a bad thing outside of the management ranks.

I have to give some time here to discuss the awesomeness of one Grady Sizemore and his outstanding five-RBI, two-HR effort last night. A leadoff HR is always a welcome sign. I've been kind of keeping track and I haven't given much time to talk about Grady so far this season, but that's probably due to his continued regular contributions to the team's offense and defense that we have become so accustomed to. I just cracked a smile thinking about Juan Gonzalez and how Grady would have started that rookie year in Buffalo if it had not been for Juan's brittle hamstrings.

Justice B. Hill, the former MLB.com Tribe beat writer, makes a return to Indians land for the weekend. I can only imagine Tony Castrovince took the weekend off to celebrate Mother's Day. For whatever the reason Mr. Hill has an article about how the Tribe tried to find some offensive help in the off season at left or right field but the asking price was too high. Yeah, not dealing Lee looks like a winner at this point.

Tom Mastny, you remember him right? The workhorse of the bullpen. Yeah the guy 36 games into the season with a solid 1.2 innings pitched so far, with a 10+ ERA which I have to point out may, I said may, be a small sample size. Well, he got sent down to Buffalo today, probably to give the bullpen down there tips on how Carl Willis likes his coffee. So to replace Mastny the Tribe have called up Jason Tyner. I know what you're saying, who? Yeah this blurb will help explain, I hope.

Well the Tribe, with Carmona on the mound, will try to make a lot of mothers, and at least one blog writer, happy with a win today pushing them over .500.

UPDATE: Today's test was rained out, making tomorrow a traditional doubleheader. I've never been to a day game or a doubleheader and really need to put some effort into making that happen.

Hi Mom!
Go Tribe!

Saturday, May 10

Andy, Progressive Field, a cool night, and a W

I was one of the many Indians faithful who braved the cool nighttime conditions last night to watch the Indians, behind CC Sabathia, take down Roy Halladay and the Toronto Blue Jays, 6-1. I know Tribe writing is generally JHH's turf, but since I was there live and in person, I think I'll step on his toes a bit.

- I rolled over to the stadium a few minutes after the first pitch, a consequence of having missed my intended bus ride home earlier. I thought for sure we'd be in for a pitcher's duel - neither club is scoring many runs and the starting pitching matchup featured two recent Cy Young winners, one of whom (Halladay) was bidding for his fifth ("fif'") straight complete game.

- And I was right - no one got on the board through the first five frames. Clevelad looked particularly pathetic at the plate. I took the first few innings to wander around Progressive Field, checking out different spots and doing some research for a future post that I think some of you will find handy. Idea for the summer: buy the cheapest ticket possible and don't even go to the seat. There are plenty of other cool places from which to check out the game.

- Around the 4th inning I took my seat in the LF bleachers, about 10 rows down from drum legend John Adams. I had to kick some people out of my seats. Well, I guess I didn't have to give them the boot - they were one section over and I could have easily gone there myself, but they should be able to read better. Plus I ended up next to a cute girl, so score one for me.

- There were lots of energetic, genuine fans at the park - I really liked the vibe from the crowd. There were also two pockets of people I didn't care for. One was these three dudes in the front of the bleachers cheering for Toronto, acting stupid and taunting Tribe fans. The other were these Eurotrash people behind me - two ugly chicks and two dorky guys who spent much of the game discussing physics (not baseball physics) and who demanded I sit down during a key rally. I did but only because I'm nice, not because it was right.

- 1-0 heading into the 7th inning stretch - the Tribe hadn't hit a ball four feet off of Halladay all game, plus Onion had won the hot dog race, so I wasn't feeling really spry. "This game sucks," I thought to myself.

- Out of nowhere, the Tribe puts a six-pack up on the board, knocking Halladay out and essentially icing the game. Hibachi! Where the hell did that come from? Hafner reached base for the third straight time with a single, Garko ripped a single in left, then came really the key play of the game. Asdrubal Cabrera came up and tried to bunt - instead, Halladay threw him four straight balls and loaded the bases with no one out. We get that bunt down, we might only have gotten a couple this inning and things might have turned out much differently.

Then Casey Blake struck with a 2-run double off the wall. Mr. Clutch! It was headed right towards me - my initial thought was that it probably had enough distance to get Hafner in - but it kept traveling and eventually clanged off the fence for a two-bagger. Baseball excitement! I love this game!

With a lefty in, Grady Sizemore popped out weakly and Franklin Gutierrez was walked intentionally to load the bases for left-handed batter David Dellucci. Tribe manager Eric Wedge smartly brought Ben Francisco to pinch hit and Toronto manager John Gibbons countered with a right-handed reliever. The vibe among the fans in my section when Francisco came in was electric. People like this guy! I was excited as well. They showed a video of his first MLB home run, a game-winner from last year in a game I attended (Tribe Weekend '07), but got the date wrong (it was June 29, not July).

Francisco justified our enthisiasm by drilling one high off the left-field wall and plating two more Indians. Baseball baseball baseball! Unlike Blake's drive, there was no doubt about BenFran's - the only question was whether it would clear the wall or put a dent into it.

Cleveland added two more runs via wild pitch and sac fly, and thus a 6-1 victory was secured. Loser-boy Jays fans made a hasty retreat, unable to deal with a bit of adversity. Have a nice canoe ride back home, fellas.

- I watched the B8th and T9th from the Batter's Eye, and got to watch Masa Kobayashi warm up. It's interesting. He does even less windup than in games. He stands there, holds the ball in the air for no apparent reason, then sort of does half of his delivery and chucks it in there. Soon thereafter, the game's final strike landed in Victor Martinez' mitt, the 27th out was recorded, and Tribe fans went home happy. This Tribe fan went home and had some PBR.

Friday, May 9

All this basketball has overloaded my circuits


New Orleans standout point guard Chris Paul is now frequently referred to by the nickname "CP3," combining his initials and jersey number. That's cool, I kinda like it.

But think if his jersey was #30. He could be called "CP30"! You could even say each letter/digit individually (seepee-three-oh) in the manner of the famous droid from Star Wars. What a missed opportunity.

I'm gonna throw you in my Delorean and gun it to 88

Haven't we seen this series before? I swear I've seen this series before.

Oh, that's right. It was last June.


Thursday, May 8

Tribe Take Two Of Three From Yankees

I have to admit my motivation for this series review / look forward isn't helped by the mystery illness now harbored within my body, but I can see the avalanche of Cavs game 2 posts and comments from a mile away so let's get down to it.

I'm sure you've read it elsewhere but this series over the Yankees (win, win, loss) gives the Tribe their first outright season series victory against the Yankees since going 7-6 vs. the Yankees 16 seasons ago in 1992. Also, the last time the Indians won a single series in Yankee Stadium was in June of 2001; they were 3-17 in the regular season in the Bronx from 2002-07.

Game 1: Tribe 5-3 win. With neither starter figuring into the decision you can say this one wasn't your straightforward baseball game. For the Tribe the keys to this win were a 2 run HR from Jhonny Peralta and a 3 run pinch-hitting blast off Joba and his stupid round face from David Dellucci in the 8th. The COT of Perez, Lewis, and Betancourt pitched 4 scoreless innings only giving up 2 hits, with Perez getting the win.

Game 2: I can sum up this game, a 3-0 Tribe win, with two words - Cliff Lee. Coming into the game, if Cliff had pitched a 1 run complete game his ERA would actually go up. Good for him he pitched 7 scoreless innings, scattering 6 hits. This was the usual Cliff Lee performance we have seen all season, spotting his fastball, getting ahead in the count, and using his off-speed stuff to dominate in situations you knew the Yankees had to be waiting for a fastball. If you haven't already, go to mlb.com and watch the Cliff Lee highlight reel they have with all of his 7 strikeouts. In the bottom of the sixth the Yankees had two runners in scoring position and Lee was ahead of Matsui 1-2 with 2 outs. Matsui obviously looking fastball swings years ahead of Cliff's looping curve for strike three, inning over, awesome. Dellucci, a stiff-necked Victor Martinez, and Casey Blake each had RBI's. With another Lee gem cue Elias for the ridiculous stat of the week:

Since the end of World War II, only three pitchers have won their first six starts while posting a lower ERA than Lee's 0.81 mark. They are Feranando Valenzuela (0.33 in '81), Roger Clemens (0.73 in '91) and Pedro Martinez (0.79 in '97). All three of those pitchers went on to win the Cy Young Award.

Game 3: Paul Byrd on the mound for the Tribe and Mike Mussina throwing 85 mph heaters and 69 mph off-speed stuff, resulting in a Yankee 3-6 win. Bryd gave up 5 runs in 6.1 offering up batting-practice-like homeruns to the likes of Damon, Giambi, and Cano. Not one of the finer outings from Byrd, who had pitched well over his previous 4 starts, though his record now stands at 1 win and 3 losses. This is looking like a team that you should be happy to get three runs from, especially with Victor out of the lineup and Hafner flirting with the Mendoza line.

Tidbits:

Victor sat out games 1 and 3 with a stiff neck. Wedge commented that Victor really gutted out his game 2 DH assignment. Here's hoping he is back in the lineup soon. This offense (well what is left of it) really needs his bat in the lineup.

Do you remember when we had guys on the team named Mastny and Breslow? Me neither. At least Julio got to play major league reliever today.

Hafner got a rare two days off not starting in games 2 or 3. He did pinch hit for Marte, making a rare two game start and getting a also rare hit, in game 2 with the bases loaded and one out. His at bat? A three pitch outing resulting in a force at home by the catcher Molina who then threw to first for the DP. MLB.com Indians beat writer Anthony Castrovince described it as not even getting to the grass in front of home plate. (Shaking head) Travis, Travis, Travis.

Speaking of Anthony Castrovince, he now has a MLBlog called CastroTurf. It offers insight that's a little more interesting and humorous than just the straight game information - you know, what I strive for here, without any god given talent.

What's Coming Up: A four game series with Toronto (17-18).

Game 1: Roy Halladay, RHP (3-4, 3.00) vs. C.C. Sabathia, LHP (1-5, 7.51)
Game 2: Dustin McGowan, RHP (2-2, 2.95) vs. Aaron Laffey, LHP (0-2, 2.84)
Game 3: A.J. Burnett, RHP (3-3, 5.19) vs. Fausto Carmona, RHP (3-1, 2.95)
Game 4: Shaun Marcum, RHP (4-2, 2.59) vs. Cliff Lee, LHP (6-0, 0.81)

Who shows up for game 1, good C.C. or crappy C.C.? This reminds me of three seasons ago when you weren't sure which Jake Westbrook would show up to pitch a game, but you at least knew he would pitch quickly.

Aaron Laffey has pitched impressively this season and Sowers, now at AAA, hasn't been too shabby himself. That's at least a little heart warming.

Fausto Carmona, whose record and ERA don't show it, has become sort of a BB machine. Hoynes over at the PD has a story quoting Carmona as saying his sinker is actually going up. Either way I have faith that Carl Willis will figure this out, well I hope he does anyway.

Jason Michaels, after being DFA'd, was traded to the Pirates for, wait for it. . . a player to be named later. I can only imagine the PTBNL that is just waiting in the wings from the Buccos. At least we didn't accept their rumored first offer, four cases of Iron City. No thanks.

Go Tribe!

Wednesday, May 7

$$$$$$$$$$$$$$

Just saw this article and, though it's not directly Tribe-related, is relevant to the club.

The Indians, in recent years (and during its mid-'90's heyday), have made deals with young players that sweeten their early club-controlled years with security and overpayment in exchange for relatively bank-friendly later years. Quite to the contrary, Braves 1B Mark Texiera is opting out of that scheme, and seems headed for a giant free-agent payday this offseason. He recently turned down $140 million (read that again, if necessary) over 8 years from the Rangers and is seeking far more (over $20MM per season for >8 seasons).

Speaking honestly, I hope his plan fails. I want him to end up with $0, or at least a lot less than he initially turned down. This mercenary attitude towards sports annoys me, as does Texiera's self-admittedly greedy attitude. I'm not typically this vindictive, but I really hope Texiera's production takes a sharp downturn this season, making him far less attractive on the open market.

There are some funny quotes in the story. Like to hear two? Here they are:

1) "I think we'll have a better sense of [the negotations] when the season's over," Braves GM Frank Wren. Read as: we will never, ever, sign this guy.

2) Texiera, regarding the Orioles: "The Orioles are close to my heart." Read that as: I will sign with the Orioles as long as they offer >$1 more than every other team.

Why pretend? I feel like I've said this before, but why not just admit you will take the offer from the highest bidder even if it means playing on Jupiter? I'm sure at some point he'll say he's just looking for a "fair" deal, which simply means he'll take the most money possible, wherever that may be.

What interests me is: will he really make as much as he's expecting as a free agent? Only a handful of clubs are able to pay what he and his hardball agent (without actually looking and basing my whole article on the headline, I guarantee it's Boras or Rosenhaus...OK, looked it up, it's Boras) will demand. Free agent signings like his are almost always plagued with injury and declines in performance, and I think maybe most teams have learned their lesson by now. Sure, it only takes one, but in today's managerially-strict MLB is there even one club looking to sign Texiera for $898 million guaranteed over 37 years? Even the ├╝ber-rich Yankees have reexamined their free-agent model.

The funniest thing would be for Texiera to end up with less than his peers who elected to take a stable route with the club they've always played for. I know it's early in the year, but his OPS is 150 points lower than his career average. He'll end up with a pile of cash no matter what, but I think/hope he'll settle for fewer $$$$$$ than currently occupy his gilded dreams.

Cavs Bested in Boston, Trail 1-0

If there's one role that Cleveland revels in playing, it's that of the underdog. We're certainly used to it. This time it's the Cavaliers reprising that underdog role as they look to slay the three-headed hydra that is the Boston Celtics. Rested, confident, and facing a Boston team that was invariably shaken up by their tough series with the Atlanta Hawks, the Cavs had to like their chances Tuesday night, but ultimately it was not to be.



Quarterly Analysis

First Quarter

The first few possessions of the game featured some bad shots (mostly by Wally Szczerbiak), but LeBron James broke the 0-0 tie by slithering into the lane for an easy two. Both teams looked out of synch, with numerous early turnovers, and 3:30 into the game it was still just 2-0. A pair of Ilgauskas free throws doubled the Cavalier lead.

After yet another stop, the Cavs ran out and James was fouled in the lane. The foul appeared to be on Kevin Garnett, but it was called on Paul Pierce, giving Pierce two early fouls and forcing him to sit down less than four minutes into the game.

Kevin Garnett banked home a three-footer, finally putting the Celtics on the board with 8:00 to play in the opening stanza. Rajon Rondo scored on a nice give-and-go with Kevin Garnett, making the score 5-4, Cavs. Kendrick Perkins slammed home a fast break basket to give the Celtics their first lead of the game and energize the TD Banknorth "and you thought 'Progressive Field' was bad" Garden crowd.

As many predicted, Rajon Rondo was an early thorn in the Cavaliers' collective side, scoring eight of Boston's first 12 points, and with 5:00 to play in the quarter the Celtics had a 12-7 lead. Rondo collected assists on the Celtics' other pair of early buckets. After missing their first seven shots, the Celtics made their next eight to open a 16-9 lead.

James Posey hit a late three for the Celtics as the first quarter came to a close, and the Cavs found themselves at a 25-15 disadvantage going into the second quarter. Frankly, the Cavs were lucky only to be down 10 considering that they just shot 21 percent in the quarter.

Kevin Garnett had 12 first quarter points, and proved to be an awfully tough guard for the Cavs. Garnett is an excellent post player, but he did most of his damage with his jump shot, as he was shooting over the shorter Ben Wallace.


Second Quarter

The second quarter began much like the first ended, with a Kevin Garnett jumper, increasing the lead to 27-15. With the Celtics leading 29-19, Kevin Garnett finally sat down, to the elation of Cavs fans everywhere. The Cavs' bench was able to keep the team in the game as LeBron James rested on the bench, and the score was 29-22 with 8:00 to play.

With James on the bench, Boston, dogged by turnovers, missed a golden opportunity to pull away from the Cavaliers. James enjoyed a full 4:30 of rest.

With 5:35 left in the quarter Sam Cassell committed a hard foul on James, grabbing the collar of James' jersey as he went up for a layup. James took an awkward spill and had to recompose himself for a few moments under the basket. The Boston crowd, being the classy bunch that they are, booed James.

Cassell was hit with a flagrant foul, as the referees correctly stated that he wasn't making a play on the ball. Regardless, it was a questionable flagrant foul call. In fairness, the flagrant call was probably to ensure that things didn't escalate like they did in the Cleveland/Washington series.

Kevin Garnett scored 16 of Boston's first 32 points. Ben Wallace made a great hustle play to force a turnover on a Celtics' inbounds pass, which culminated in a Wally Szczerbiak jumper. Szczerbiak, trying to make ammends his first quarter of garbage, made a jump shot on the ensuing possession, and the Cavs found themselves trailing by only two (32-30) with less than 4:00 to play in the half.

A Rajon Rondo jumper and a Paul Pierce fast break bucket increased the Boston lead to six. The tandem of Pierce and Ray Allen had been held scoreless up to that point.

With just a few second left in the half LeBron fired a brilliant pass to Zydrunas Ilgauskas for an easy finger roll. James then made a rare boneheaded play, blocking Rajon Rondo as Rondo sprinted up the court for a buzzer-beater. Rondo made both of his free throws to increase the Boston lead to four.

The Celtics led 41-37 at the half, and the Cavs were lucky to be down just four considering that they were shooting a WNBA-like (ZZZZZING!) 28.9 percent.

The Cavs kept things close for three reasons. 1) Free throws; the Cavs were 15/18, the Celtics 8/10. 2) Turnovers; 12 for Boston, 7 for Cleveland. 3) Offensive rebounds; Cleveland 5, Boston 2. (4) Sam Cassell's good looks.)

Third Quarter

As the quarter began Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce got a pair of easy layups for Boston, doubling the Celtics' lead. Thankfully the Cavaliers seemed determined to get Zydrunas Ilgauskas going in the second half, setting Z up for an open jump shot and giving him a look in the low post.

An 11-0 run fueled by Boston miscues gave the Cavaliers a 48-45 lead with 7:07 to play in the quarter. After some gritty offensive rebounding by Ben Wallace, Wally Szczerbiak's three point shot was pure, giving the Cavs a 51-45 lead (14-0 run!). A Kendrick Perkins free throw finally broke up the remarkable Cleveland run.

Paul Pierce and Kendrick Perkins hit shots to cut the lead to 51-50 with less than 3:00 in the quarter. A questionable charging call gave LeBron James his fourth foul, forcing him to sit down with 2:12 in the quarter.

Even with LeBron James and Zydrunas Ilgauskas on the bench, the Cavs were able to hang tough for the remainder of the quarter. At the end of three, the Cavs were very much alive, trailing 53-52.

Fourth Quarter

As the quarter opened TNT flashed a graphic indicating that the Cavs were shooting just 28 percent. Twenty-eight percent! And they were just down by one! That's a testament to how well the Cavs were playing defense and getting to the free throw line.

After 2:30 of what was tantamount to an offensive explosion (in this game, anyway), a three point play by Sasha Pavlovic gave the Cavaliers a 60-59 lead. LeBron James and Kevin Garnett re-entered the game.

Sam Cassell really burned the Cavs in the fourth, making two early threes and hitting a deuce to give Boston a 66-60 lead. Wally Szczerbiak drained a three of his own to cut the lead to three, and LeBron James made a layup, his first basket since early in the first quarter (Cleveland's first basket of the game). It was a once again a one-point game.

A Daniel Gibson trey ball tied the game at 68 with a hair over 2:00 to play. If you wanted a nail-biter, as Frank Costanza would say, "YOU GOT IT!"

With LeBron James struggling from the field, Zydrunas Ilgauskas answered the call for the Cavaliers. Big Z drained a 20-footer to give the Cavs a 70-68 advantage with 1:30 to play. Kevin Garnett, who's a better than average player himself, answered back with a 21-footer on the ensuing possession to tie the game once again.

LeBron James was unable to hit a runner for the Cavs and Sam Cassell hauled down the rebound for Boston. Cassell was fouled on the rebound and hit both of his free throws to give the Celtics a 72-70 edge. Cleveland had possession with 52.4 seconds to play.

King James must have committed some kind of malfeasance against the Sporting Gods, because he could not get a break all night long. James must have had at least half a dozen shots go in and out. Such was the case on this particular possession. But just as he had all game, the Lanky Lithuanian came to the rescue, swatting in an offensive to tie the game at 72. Somewhere Austin Carr cried out "The best tip drill man in the league!" in between bites of DiGiorno Pizza. Michael Reghi couldn't believe it wasn't delivery.

But that tall guy who wears number five for Boston spun inside to lay the ball in, and Boston had the lead once more, 74-72, with 21.4 seconds to play.

So the Cavaliers had possession with 21.4 to play, and I was left pondering what they might do. They could hold and play for a two or a three at the buzzer, ensuring that they wouldn't have to play defense again if the shot went in (it would mean overtime or a win). The Cavs could also take a shot before the buzzer, and that way if they missed, they would have an opportunity to foul. There are different schools of thought on this scenario, and I probably side with the second camp. When you're losing, you want an opportunity to extend the game if you miss your game-tying/winning shot.

LeBron James dribbled down and got a good shot in the lane, but as had happened all night long, the iron was unkind. The ball rimmed out, James Posey grabbed the rebound and was subsequently fouled. Posey made both of his free throws to make the lead four, and more importantly, two possessions.

The Cavs took their final timeout to advance the ball, LeBron James missed a three-pointer, and Rajon Rondo dribbled out the clock. Game. Set. Match. Final score: 76-72, Bahstan.


Quick Hits

Concerning King James.
People are really going to latch onto LeBron's 2/18 shooting stat, and while the guy had a bad night in the box score, he really didn't really shoot all that badly. Call me an apologist, but at least six or seven of those misses, including James' potential game-tying deuce, were shots that usually fall and simply rimmed out. LeBron's going to be fine, and he'll probably come back with a big game on Thursday night.

Other positives for James were assist/rebound numbers; he posted nine in each column. James played terrific defense on Paul Pierce, holding Pierce to 2/14 shooting and just 4 points. LeBron was 8/10 from the free throw line, which might be a little low on the attempts side, but a nice percentage especially when you consider how he struggled from the line during the first two games of the Washington series.

But LeBron ran into some serious stubmling blocks tonight, also. He allowed himself to get into foul trouble again, and he can't afford to let that become a recurring problem in the playoffs, or the regular season for that matter. Most disturbing to me were LeBron's 10 turnovers. If LeBron's lousy shooting numbers cost the Cavs the game, his turnovers were equally liable. And 0/6 from downtown is no good. James still shoots too many threes, and when he's shooting lots of threes it usually means he's settling for bad shots.

It won't be ESPN's favorite highlight, but... One of the plays of the game was LeBron's foolish blocking foul on Rajon Rondo at the very end of the first half. The foul gave Rondo two free throws, and he converted both of them. Ceteris paribus, if LeBron doesn't commit that foul then the Cavs have the ball with 21.4 seconds to play and the game tied at 72, and things could have turned out quite differently.

Big Ticket=big problems. Kevin Garnett had his way with the Cavaliers tonight. 28 points and 8 boards, but more importantly, that's 28 of just 76 total points. The Cavs are going to have to get creative with how they guard Garnett as the series continues, or it could end up being a short series.

Ben Wallace wasn't getting pushed around at all by the wiry Garnett, but Wallace is only 6' 9", meaning that the mid-range jumper was available to the 6' 11" Garnett all night. But hey, if Kevin Garnett is going to beat you with jump shots, you tip your cap to him and live with it.

The ugly match up was Joe Smith on Garnett. Smith is still a fine reserve, but he's no spring chicken, and the quicker Garnett stole his lunch money tonight. I have no idea why Smith was on Garnett on the possession where Boston took a 74-72 lead, but Wallace doesn't get beat inside like that, and maybe Garnett doesn't make that basket.

A match made in heaven. We may have finally found someone slow enough for Wally Szczerbiak to guard, and his name is Ray Allen. Allen was total non-factor in spite of playing over 37 minutes, scoring zero -- count 'em -- zero points on 0/4 shooting and turning the ball over 4 times. Wally deserves credit for keeping a hand in Allen's face for most of the evening, because as the Cavaliers have learned in the past, Allen is a pretty safe bet to hit a wide open three.

Speaking of Wally World... At the risk of sounding like a broken record, what's it going to take to get this dude back on the bench? Look, I like Szczerbiak; he's clearly got passion, he's by all accounts a hard worker, and he seems like a nice enough guy in interviews, but he had two good games out of six against Washington and he just served up another clunker (5/14 shooting, 2/5 from 3-point land).

Devin Brown earned the starting job this season in lieu of Sasha Pavlovic's holdout/injury (Speaking of which, why didn't Brown see the floor at all tonight?), but if it's offense Mike Brown is looking for, why not start Daniel Gibson? Gibson is less of a defensive liability than Szczerbiak, he's the team's best three-point shooter, and he does this one thing that fans really enjoy: HE MAKES SHOTS! I'm a Mike Brown supporter, but all I can come up with on this one is that Szczerbiak has incriminating photos of that one thing Mike Brown did with that donkey that one time when he got completely trashed.

No, no, no...the ball's supposed to go IN the hoop. The Cavs had about as lousy a shooting night that a team, let alone a playoff team, can realistically have in the NBA. The team's shooting percentage was 30.8 percent.

Now I know what you're thinking, that it was primarily anchored by LeBron's tough luck game, right? Eh, not really. Take away LeBron's 2/18 and the Cavs are still just 21/57, good for 36.8 percent. As far as I know we're only starting one player named Wally Szczerbiak, so that stat just won't cut it (I kid out of love). The three things that I noted at halftime (free throws, offensive rebounding, Boston turnovers) are why the Cavs were able to keep this thing close all night, and chances are that they won't be able to survive another game shooting this poorly.

Advance screening. Boston was guilty of some moving screens early in the game that weren't called. The Cavs, namely Anderson Varejao, are also susceptible to moving screens from time to time. Moving screens are one of those fouls that you just don't see very often, but they could be called all the time; not unlike holding in football.

Neither a close talker nor a high talker, but a fast talker. During his halftime interview, did anyone else notice that Rajon Rondo talks really, really fast? It's like he was doing an impression of Dr. Reid from Scrubs. If that dude's ever on the receiving end of a career-ending injury, he definitely has a future as an auctioneer.

The Cleveland Cavaliers will return: Thursday night for game two of their best-of-seven series with the Chowderheads. If the Cavs can come back to Cleveland with a split they will be in terrific shape. Tip off from TD Banknorth Garden at 7:00. Be there, or be square.