Celtics do number on Cavaliers in Game 5 blowout
CLEVELAND — Everything was happening too quickly. Kevin Garnett was abusing Antawn Jamison in the paint. Ray Allen was running the baseline like a medal was at stake. Paul Pierce was trying his best to get himself involved offensively. And this was all in the first quarter.
The energy and urgency inherent in a critical Game 5 on the road had the Celtics playing in fast forward, trying to attack the Cleveland Cavaliers with a flurry of rushed shots.
Rajon Rondo, whose star couldn’t have shot higher after his Game 4 triple-double, ran himself so ragged in the first quarter (two turnovers without an assist) that coach Doc Rivers sat him for six minutes in the second.
“You could see it,’’ Rivers said. “He was tired. He needed it. For whatever reason he was tired early.’’
It was all sort of a blur.
“Everything was kind of helter skelter,’’ Allen said.
Rivers called a timeout, telling his team to take a deep breath and slow down.
“Everybody wanted to win the game,’’ Rivers said. “I just thought we came out in the first five minutes with each guy trying to win it individually on his own. We’re not good that way. We can’t play basketball that way.’’
They didn’t need any heroes. They just needed to execute. As the pace slowed, the Celtics’ defense began turn LeBron James from MVP to mortal. The offense had weapons at every angle, from Garnett in the post, to Allen on the perimeter, to Paul Pierce, who was free to assert himself as a scorer.
That execution led to a 120-88 win that gave the Celtics a three-games-to-two lead with a chance to close out the series at TD Garden tomorrow night. After being picked apart by one player, the Cavaliers had a hard time finding an answer for a Celtics team that seemed to have a scoring threat everywhere on the court.
“That’s the beauty of our team,’’ said Pierce. “It makes us so dangerous. When you look at Cleveland, you know you’ve got to stop LeBron. With us, we’ve got four or five guys who can lead us in scoring. You never know where it’s going to come from and that’s what makes us so dangerous — different guys stepping up different nights.
Allen took target practice from 3-point range (25 points, six treys), Garnett put on a clinic in the paint (18 points, six boards), and Pierce strapped on his utility belt, scoring his series-high 21 points, grabbing 11 rebounds, dishing out 7 assists and playing the kind of defense that made it a miserable night for the two-time reigning MVP.
James finished 3 for 14, piling the bricks so high he drew boos from the home crowd, expecting him to put the Cavs on his back and lift them out of a ditch.
It was the rare night where not only was James’s jumper off, but he somehow couldn’t get to the rim either.
“It’s unlike him,’’ said Cavaliers coach Mike Brown. “He had an off night, which is abnormal.’’
The much-hyped Rondo-James matchup didn’t take shape until two minutes left in the first quarter, and as soon as James left Pierce, Rondo found him. Those were the poisons Cleveland had to choose between. They were killed by both.
Pierce, who had drawn the short straw having to guard James all series, was aided last night by team defense. He had become accustomed to playing with fouls through the first four games, but last night finished with just three.
“It was team defense,’’ Rivers said. “I really thought we did a better job helping Paul out. I thought there have been a lot of times where we’ve left Paul out on an island defensively. [Last night] the talking and the help was there, which allowed him to stay out of foul trouble.’’
The Celtics’ defense forced Cleveland to cough it up 17 times (for 24 points), struggling at times to make clean passes from one side to the other. On one of James’s three turnovers, an errant pass that went skipping toward the floor under the backboard, his own crowd began to turn on him.
For the Celtics, the boos sound like cheers when you’re in someone else’s gym. They’ve won three times this season in a building where they had come up empty the past two years. A win tomorrow night guarantees they won’t have to make another trip here until next year.
“One of the things I told our guys,’’ Rivers said, “is we’ve done nothing. We’ve won three games and you have to win four. We have a home game and that’s it for us in this series. It’s a very important home game.’’