Dan Shaughnessy

Another offensive outing

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Dan Shaughnessy
Globe Columnist / May 9, 2008

It is now officially a slump. The Cavaliers are down, 0-2, and LeBron James has made only 8 of 42 shots in two dark nights on the parquet floor.

A great player is playing his worst ball when it matters most. He is suffocating.

We have seen it before. LeBron in this series is Ted Williams in the 1946 Fall Classic. He is Phil Mickelson in the 2006 US Open at Winged Foot. He is Alex Rodriguez in any playoff series you can remember.

Most of us said it couldn't get worse after LeBron's 2-for-18, 10-turnover stinker in Game 1 Tuesday. But James wasn't much better last night (6 for 24) and the Cavaliers imploded under the weight of his seismic slump. Boston's 89-73 win put the Celtics up, 2-0, as the series shifts to Cleveland for a pair starting tomorrow night.

And we wonder, can Cleveland crack 80 points in this series? Can LeBron get his shooting percentage (.190) over the Mendoza Line?

"I'm not frustrated," said the ever-composed James. "Going through a period where I can't make a shot, I'm not as frustrated as with me making 17 turnovers in two games. I'm not frustrated and I'm not getting down on the series."

The Celtics are playing great defense on James. Paul Pierce, James Posey, and Ray Allen have taken turns shutting down the King. The Celtics have called out the switches and battled LeBron for every inch of hardwood space. They have made him pay for every trip to the hoop. It's like the strong-arm strategy the Patriots applied to Marshall Faulk in Super Bowl XXXVI in New Orleans.

"I think defensively they're very aggressive, they're very good," said James. "There's shots I normally make that haven't fallen. The layups that usually go down are jumping out of the rim. I'm going to stay positive and work my way through."

Don't expect premature gloating by the Green Team. They know this is a long series.

"I'm a little shocked that he's 8 for 42, but that's what we work on," said Pierce. "It's not me. It's everybody. It's mostly the big guys who are stepping up. It makes it tough on him and puts him in position where he has to start forcing things. LeBron is what makes them go and if we can control him, we can control their team."

"They have very athletic bigs and don't allow me to crack the second defense," said James. "But we've got to knock down shots. You can't win a game shooting 30 percent in Game 1 and 35 percent in this one. It's just not going to happen."

"I heard people around town saying they'd rather play Cleveland than Washington," said Celtics boss Danny Ainge. "That's insane. Are you kidding me? Have they seen LeBron play? He's a special talent. His greatness will shine in the playoffs. I think, before he's done, he has a chance to be the greatest player of all time."

Not in this series. Not yet.

In the first 30 seconds, LeBron missed a long jumper from the left corner. The next time he touched the ball, he fell down and turned it over. A minute later, he threw a pass that was intercepted. Then he rimmed out another shot from the corner.

He recovered momentarily and made 3 of 8 attempts in the first quarter, which ended with the Cavaliers leading, 24-17.

Subbing for Pierce (nasty thumbnail wound on his right hand), Posey did a terrific job on James early in the second quarter and King James's first five heaves were bad-looking misses. One was an airball. Another barely grazed iron. Frustrated, James went to the basket and failed to convert. Then he threw the ball away. Again.

With 1:44 left in the half, James went to the line and missed two free throws. At this juncture, the King was playing a mind game - and losing. He rattled home four free throws in the final minute before intermission - his only points of the second quarter.

"I thought LeBron had a few wide-open jumpers, good looks," said Cavaliers coach Mike Brown. "He got to the rim a few times and the ball rolled out. But some of the looks he had, I'll live with."

"LeBron's missing some shots he can make," said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. "We understand that."

The Celtics were ahead, 52-36, when James took his first shot of the second half. Another miss. The next attempt, a three, rattled down the cylinder for a moment, then popped out and over the backboard. By this time we were watching an official jailbreak. That tends to happen when your team makes three baskets over a stretch of 21 minutes.

"They're doing what every team does against LeBron," said Brown. "Blitzing his pick-and-rolls, double-teaming him in the post. They're picking their spots, being aggressive, trying to keep him off balance, then being soft. You've got to give them credit for staying after it."

With 5:11 left in the third, James came off a pick and swished a jumper. It was his first basket since the first quarter.

After he missed a technical free throw with 2:09 left in the third quarter, fans chanted, "Over-rated." About a minute later, James drove to the basket and missed a layup. Then another. He scored on a drive at the start of the fourth, but was stripped of the basketball on his next attempt and the Celtics scored in transition to take a 20-point lead at 73-53.

"He's great," said Rivers. "He's going to be great. Great players have bad nights and they have multiple bad nights at times. He's still great. He's still LeBron James and he's going home."

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at

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