NBA

LeBron's putrid performance a shocker

LeBron James
LeBron James better show up in Game 6 on Thursday.
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Charley Rosen

Charley Rosen is FOXSports.com's NBA analyst and author of 17 sports books, the current ones being Bullpen Diaries: Mariano Rivera, Bronx Dreams, Pinstripe Legends, and the Future of the New York Yankees and Crazy Basketball: A Life In and Out of Bounds.

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The outcome itself was a huge surprise, a lopsided 120-88 win by the Boston Celtics on the Cleveland Cavaliers' home court, enabling Boston to forge a 3-2 lead in the series. But there were several other surprises of various degrees that were equally as shocking.

Foremost among these was the awful performance of LeBron James — 3-for-14 for a mere 15 points. Some credit must certainly go to the Celtics' defensive game plan:

• They went under almost every high screen that involved James — a strategy that worked to perfection as evidenced by LBJ’s hitting only one of the 11 jumpers he attempted.

• As a change of pace, the Celtics had the screener’s defender show wide and long on the weak side.

• Sometimes Boston also dropped the nearest wing defender to a relevant position along the foul line to squeeze LeBron’s available driving lanes. At the same time, a big (usually Kevin Garnett) rotated up to cover the now-open wing.

But James has never previously allowed himself to be X’d and O’d into such a putrid outing. Still, he did seem hesitant to blast his way to the rim. His three buckets came on a breakaway dunk when he leaked out on defense; a 15-footer that he swished; and a familiar cross-over dribble that eventuated in a single power layup.

What was what with the King?
 Celtics-Cavs Game 5

Visual evidence

Still can't believe the Celtics blew out the Cavs? Check out the best shots from Game 5.
 

From this corner of the basketball universe it seemed as though LBJ really didn’t trust his teammates, especially after the licking they took in Game 4 in Boston. Deep in some secret recess of his soul, perhaps he knew that this particular supporting cast didn’t have the goods to win a championship. And instead of trying to rouse them into playing beyond their means, James played down to his own expectations of them.

It’s the reverse of leadership.

There are several other possibilities that might explain LeBron’s implosion:

• He himself doesn’t believe the overwhelming hype about his own game, and there’s an undercurrent of self-doubt working in his subconscious.

• Or, he’s simply the king of chokers.

• Or, his bags are already packed and he’s headed out of town.

The only way that LBJ can dispel these rude possibilities is to totally dominate Games 6 and 7 and lead the Cavs into the expected showdown with Orlando.
 LeBron James

LeBron James was strangely unassertive in Game 5, failing to make a field goal until the third quarter.
AP Photo/Mark Duncan


Other notable surprises for the Cavs include Shaq’s forceful effort — 7-for-11, 4 blocks and 21 points in only 26 minutes. Sure, he threw up at least three bricks and was often nowhere in the vicinity when his massive presence was needed to seal the basket. But he did swat a pair of Rajon Rondo’s layups, and also made himself available for dunks when his defender was compelled to step into the middle to help on ball penetrations.

Besides Shaq, the only other hometown hero who came to play was Anthony Parker — 5-for-9, 14 points, and some stellar defense.

No surprise for the Cavs was another nowhere game from Mo Williams — 3-for-8, 9 points, and zero defense.

Also business as usual was Antawn Jamison’s inept defense that Boston repeatedly exposed with successful post-ups by Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce. On one sequence, Jamison abandoned KG and followed Ray Allen around the low screen, leaving Garnett completely unattended and in position to take a pass and score a layup.

Overall, the Cavs' mostly solo-mio offense enabled the Celtics to stack their defense and cut the attack zone in half. At the same time Cleveland’s screen/rolls, perimeter and interior defensive was slipshod.

For the Celtics, Ray Allen’s bull’s-eye shooting — 8-for-13, including 6-for-9 from 3-point land — was no surprise whatsoever. Despite being hounded by Parker, Allen’s curls and fades off of a variety of pin-down screens, coupled with his usual quick-release jumpers, carried his team in the early going.

That Garnett abused Jamison’s helpless defense in the low post was only a mild surprise.

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  • Who will win Game 6 in Boston?
    • Cavaliers
    • Celtics

With LBJ in a funk, Pierce stepped up his own production — 9-for-21, 11 rebounds, 7 assists and 21 big points.

After playing possum in the first half, Rajon Rondo scored all of his 16 points after the intermission on flashy drives that have become familiar — double-crossovers, running floaters, fast-breaking dunks, and even a triple. The only thing that Williams caught when chasing his opposite number was a chill wind in Rondo’s wake.

Tony Allen’s relentless defense was no surprise. Nor was Kendrick Perkins’ muscular presence in the middle, as well as the invisibility of Rasheed Wallace.

But the most unexpected individual performance for the visitors was Glen Davis — 4-for-7, 15 points in just 20 minutes. Included in his totals were a 3-point play that eventuated when he took Jamison into the pivot, a pair of 17-foot springers, and a broad-shouldered putback.

For sure, Boston got the ball to the right guys in the right places at the right times. And their defensive rotations were quick enough to clog the middle and also get out to pressure the Cavs' shooters.

Bu the focus has to be on LeBron.

Is he really the King? Or is it just a matter of time before he’s revealed to be only a pretender to the throne?
Tagged: Celtics, Cavaliers, Antawn Jamison, Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett, LeBron James, Mo Williams, Tony Allen, Rajon Rondo

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