Cavs delivered their biggest effort
Feeling better, Cavalier fans?
Your team marched into TD Garden and did more than beat the Boston Celtics. They destroyed the Celtics. They embarrassed the Celtics. They served notice that they can be so good, so dominating, when the mood strikes them.
Cavaliers 124, Boston 95.
Maybe you thought the Cavs would win this game. Why not? The Cavs won more road games (26) this season than Boston did at home (24).
But winning like this? This was stunning, the Cavs leading in Boston by as many as 33 points. This was historic, the worst home loss in Boston's long playoff history. This was the Cavaliers grabbing a 2-1 lead in the best-of-7 Eastern Conference.
This was the Cavs owning the backboards, a 45-30 margin in rebounding. This was the Cavs shooting nearly 60 percent from the field. This was even the NBA's worst team at free throws making 31 of 34 at the foul line.
Finally, this was LeBron James being the back-to-back Most Valuable Player. It was James outscoring the entire Celtic team, 21-17, in the first quarter. Aching elbow? More like a sore neck for Boston's Paul Pierce, whose head kept snapping back as he watched the ball leave James' hand and then drop softly into the net.
Those 21 points were a special delivery on only 10 shots by James, including eight jumpers. Those 21 points came in the flow of the game, James not hesitating. He caught a pass, and either shot it, drove to the basket or passed.
Those 21 points meant so much to the Cavs, who had a 36-17 lead after 12 minutes. It restored their confidence and had to shake the Celtics. Give James 38 points (14-of-22 shooting), along with eight rebounds and seven assists.
How about his defense? Pierce had 11 ugly points on 4-of-15 shooting. For the series, he's averaging 12 points and shooting 30 percent. He was Boston's leading scorer in the regular season, but James is beating him down physically and wearing him out mentally.
How about those 20 points and a game-high 12 rebounds from Antawn Jamison? His dozen rebounds was two more than the entire starting Celtics frontcourt.
Perhaps the real Cavalier hero, at least according to the players and coaches, was Anthony Parker. Parker asked coach Mike Brown not only if he could defend Boston star Rajon Rondo from the opening jump ball, but also wanted to pressure Rondo full court. Brown agreed.
Then Brown had his players try to entice Rondo in taking jump shots, perhaps the weakest part of the star point guard's game. He finished with 19 points, but couldn't drive at will or tilt the momentum in his team's direction.
Meanwhile, Parker took four shots, making them all for 11 points.
Then there was Mo Williams and Delonte West, chasing Boston super-shooter Ray Allen all over the court. Allen was nearly invisible, shooting 2-of-9 for seven points. Williams and West combined for 26 points and 10 assists on 9-of-15 shooting. They crowded Allen, running at him to force Allen to drive, which is not his comfort zone.
Finally, the Cavs treated Shaquille O'Neal as what he's become at this stage of his career -- a role player whose forte is defense and rebounding. They stopped forcing the ball inside to him, waiting for to shoot.
They just played, not worrying about O'Neal -- and the massive center scored 12 on 5-of-7 shooting. He had nine rebounds along with a couple of hard fouls, serving notice he was ready to defend the rim.
When it was over, Brown said this is what can happen when his team shows "effort, focus, energy and aggression."
It all added up to their best performance when the Cavs needed it the most.