James still leading way

He fronts a new Cavaliers group

Two Celtics (Kevin Garnett and James Posey) to every Hawk (Al Horford) was the standard yesterday around loose balls. Two Celtics (Kevin Garnett and James Posey) to every Hawk (Al Horford) was the standard yesterday around loose balls. (Jim Davis/Globe Staff)
Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Christopher L. Gasper
Globe Staff / May 5, 2008

Celtics coach Doc Rivers could have started preparing his game plan for the Cleveland Cavaliers late in the third quarter, right about the time Kevin Garnett took a behind-the-back feed from Paul Pierce, converted a layup while being fouled to give the Celtics a 70-34 lead, and then mouthed to press row, "Game over."

Now, following the Celtics' commanding 99-65 Game 7 victory over the Atlanta Hawks yesterday at TD Banknorth Garden, it's Game On with LeBron.

And if the 66-win Celtics want to advance to the Eastern Conference finals, they're going to have to play at a much higher level against King James and the reigning conference champions than they did against upstart Atlanta.

Knowing that, Rivers admitted after yesterday's game that the night before Game 7 he popped in some tape of the Cavaliers. His observations for the Celtics' Round 2 opponent were obvious, but on point.

"LeBron is a great player. I think we should start there," said Rivers. "It's going to be a tough series. They were in the Finals last year. One of the things I told our team all year, every time we played them and already [again] is that we're trying to catch them, not them trying to catch us. The [regular-season] record means nothing."

However, the Cavaliers are a different team from the one that split the regular-season series with the Celtics, 2-2, with each team holding court on its home floor, thanks to a three-team, 11-player megadeal that brought them Ben Wallace and Joe Smith from Chicago and former Celtics Delonte West and Wally Szczerbiak from Seattle.

Boston has only played the reconfigured Cavs once, beating them, 92-87, at the Garden Feb. 27. It was just Cleveland's third game with its new crew.

"Obviously, they're trying to figure out some things with their new group, but they're playing really well," said Garnett. "They're playing at a high level."

The one constant, though, remains LeBron, and as the Washington Wizards, who were dispatched by Cleveland in six games in the first round, learned, you don't challenge him. Forward James Posey chuckled when reminded of the Wizards' words.

But trying to contain James is no laughing matter. In the three games he played against Boston - he sat out one with a finger injury - James averaged 32.3 points, 9.6 assists, and 7 rebounds. That was similar to his overall regular-season averages (30 points, 7.2 assists, 7.9 rebounds), and what he did against Washington (29.8, 7.7, 9.5).

"There's no way to stop LeBron James," said Posey, who figures to spend some time guarding No. 23. "You can't stop that man."

Celtics guard Ray Allen, who will also be called on to guard James, agreed, but he said the key is to not let James's supporting cast take on a starring role as well.

"He's going to have the ball in his hands and with that he's going to make shots and he's going to get to the free throw line," said Allen. "But it's key that he doesn't have a cast of characters with him where they're taking over and giving him some breaks."

And it's not just as simple as doubling James, either. Do that and he'll make you pay.

"When my teammates' confidence is up, the sky is the limit for our team," said James. "You've got to pick your poison. You can play me one-on-one or you try to double and tilt and leave my guys on the backside open or leave my bigs flashing to the rim."

"He's a great passer," said Allen. "He's going to get to the paint. We just have to continue to be staunch on defense and just make sure that nobody else has a great series against us."

To do that the Celtics will need the same defense that forced Atlanta to shoot an atrocious 29.3 percent from the field yesterday. The Celtics seemed to lose their way defensively against Atlanta, but rediscovered their defensive mojo just in time to avoid an ignominious elimination.

Such a slipup against Cleveland, though, and the season will be over.

"This is going to be the ultimate test," said Paul Pierce. "One of the top players in the league is coming in. One of the top teams in the league is coming in, so we definitely got our work cut out for ourselves. We got to be ready."

One Celtics fan was confident, sporting a sign that read, "LeBron, we're ready."

Ready or not, here he and the Cavaliers come.

"It's going to be a really good matchup," said James. "We envisioned ourselves beating Washington and going against Boston. It took a little bit longer time than I think both teams thought, but it's going to be a good matchup."

Christopher L. Gasper can be reached at

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