Sunday, May 9

The Downtown Report

Somehow, I must have gotten into a time machine and traveled back to March, because there's no other way to explain this ridiculous weather we're dealing with here in the 216. But the time machine explanation doesn't hold water, because I don't recall having stepped into a hot tube in the past few weeks.

We're dealing with quite a dichotomy with our two active teams (OK, three, if you count the Gladiators); the Cavs remain a legitimate title contender, and the Indians remain a legitimate 4th-place-in-the-AL-Central contender. The Cavs played arguably their best game of the season on Friday night, cutting a wide swath of destruction through the not-Boston Garden en route to a 2-1 series lead. The Indians, meanwhile, were rained out in a storm so bad it knocked out the satellite at the Downtown bar that Nick, Figgs, and I were stationed at, meaning they had to wait another day to collect their 5th straight loss while we fretted over the possibility that the Cavs' lead might have dipped below 30.

OK, so I didn't write anything after the Cavs' Game 2 loss, a 104-86 embarrassment on their own floor at the hands of the hated Boston Celtics. Frankly, I didn't know what to write. I was a bit worried, both about LeBron's elbow problem and about how clueless the club looked, especially in that fateful 3rd quarter where they were outscored 31-12. I feel compelled to point out that, in the other three quarters of the game, the Cavs were a +1.

The major problem was, once again, Rajon Rondo, who scored 13 points while notching a preposterous 19 assists. The guy lived in the paint, and his teammates repeatedly made the Cavaliers pay. One of those contributions in particular, however, smacked of unsustainability; 17 points on 7-8 shooting from Rasheed Wallace (who still managed to post a -2 +/- rating). The Celtic starters were the entire story here, as each of them reached double figures in scoring with a collective +69 for the game. Boston shot 51% and the Cavs shot 40%, "led" by Mo Williams' inexcusable 1-9 performance. Cleveland was outrebounded 43-32. I'm tired of talking about this game.

Game 3, now that was fun. LeBron set the tone early for the team, coming out firing with 21 first-quarter points in a dominant 12-minute effort that put the Cavs in command at 36-17 early on. Cleveland never let up from there, as their lead eventually ballooned to 33 points and ended up at 29 for the final 124-95 margin, the worst home playoff loss in the Celtics' storied history.

LeBron was fabulous, with an MVP-ish 38/8/7 line, plus a steal, two blocks and just a single turnover, leading to a stunning +30 rating. Another masterpiece from the league's best player. Five other Cavaliers hit double digits in an impressively-balanced effort, anchored by another workmanlike 20/12 from Antawn Jamison, who Nick and I have nicknamed "Tawn Tawn" to commemorate Nick's 5000th career Star Wars reference. I hope we can ride him to another victory (Jamison, not Nick), or at least the South Marker.

All 5 Cavalier starters were +20 or better. The club shot 59.5% to Boston's 42.7%. Cleveland outrebounded Boston 45-30, in part because there weren't any missed shots for Boston to collect defensive boards on. Man, the Cavs even knocked down 31-34 free throws. You can look up and down the Cavs' stat sheet and not find anything bothersome.

What I liked the best is that they never once let Boston get any momentum, never let the crowd get anywhere near the game. Even after constructing a 20-point lead, they kept pushing - every time Boston got a basket or two and you thought they might mount a run, Cleveland came right back with a big bucket. Every single time. That focus and execution was what impressed me the most about this game.

I noticed a contrast between the two blowouts we saw in Games 2 and 3 of the series in terms of the play of the team absorbing the beating. In Game 2, Cleveland looked lost, disoriented, and confused at both ends of the floor as Boston carved them up in the 3rd quarter. They corrected some of that in the 4th as they mounted a futile comeback, but there was simply no team coherence during the stretch that cost them the game. On the other hand, Boston never looked like they were struggling to figure things out, even as Cleveland was kicking them around. They didn't look bad so much as Cleveland just looked good. As a Cavalier fan, I think this bodes well for us - if we play good basketball and execute the way we can when we're on, Boston simply can't beat us. And I still don't think they will.

Now, for a word on the officiating, and the Celtics' response to it: you are a bunch of crybabies. All of you. Stop whining. As Brian Windhorst twittered, "Watching a game at TD Garden is sort of like watching a game at Duke, fans & players mortified when they don't get every call. EVERY call." It's true. The Celtics must practice this or something. It's unreal. They're all exactly like that guy you hate to play pickup ball against, every last one. Über-fan Bill Simmons even twitter-criticized the "pro-Cle refs" at the game, a crew who were so overwhelmingly in favor of the Cavaliers that they called two more fouls against Cleveland than against Boston. Strong point, Bill. Plus, don't forget that the Celtics are old, slow, and notoriously dirty. Is it a huge surprise that they might get a few fouls called against them? I find it particularly gratifying that the refs have nailed Kevin Garnett in three straight games for cheap shots he's taken at the Cavs.

Hopefully they'll only have to catch him twice more this year.

Well, this isn't quite a fun of a thing to write about, especialy since Paul Cousineau has taken pretty much every relevant point regarding the Indians and written splendidly about it. The score was 4-1 when I started writing this piece, and the Wahoos are now knotted at 4 and suddenly find themselves in serious danger of falling behind and setting the stage for their 6th straight loss. Where early in the season they could stay near .500 with decent pitching offsetting their putrid offensive production, the hurlers (ERA+ of 93) have dropped back and the batters (OPS+ 90) have continued their weak-hitting ways. It's brutal.

Nevertheless, Nick, Figgs, and I ventured down to Progressive Field on Saturday to support the local club, and there really wasn't a lot to like, other than the hilarious jokes we made all game, many of them at the expense of unappealing Tiger fans.

There was the sad inevitability of Cleveland's 6-4 defeat - even when they tied the game, I never had a good feeling that they'd win, the exact opposite of how I view late-game Cavalier situations.

There was the way they lost - Detroit collecting a free run on a careless error by Louie Goodworth, Cleveland squandering one with back-to-back strikeouts with a runner on third. There was the continued presence of Jhonny Peralta on the field.

There was an inexplicably nasty mid-May day weather-wise, with strong gusting winds and surprisingly cold temperatures. I almost lost my favorite hat.

There was a lifeless, forgivably-sparse crowd, reported at 18K but that barely looked more than 10K, half of which seemed to be Tiger fans. It made me a little sad, actually, thinking about the great moments that park has seen compared to Saturday's state. I sure hope things pick up for the Tribe.

Don't think for one second I've given up on 2010, or that I won't be back many times before the season ends. Things are just tough right now. But the weather will get better. And we will win a few more games. And they will keep selling beer at Progressive Field.

For those of you who don't think the Browns have superstar talent, I offer you the 2009 NBA MVP: LeBron James of the Cleveland Browns. It's true - check the title of the browser window when you open the link. I guess that ad campaign really struck a chord with ESPN's staff!

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