Fall from grace

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Fall from grace

By Rich Levine
CSNNE.com

BOSTON We always joked about what might happen in Cleveland if LeBron decided to split.

And on Tuesday night, those jokes played out on the parquet.

Basically, every potential consequence of LeBron taking his contraction talks to South Beach has turned into a reality. Throw in a couple of tough injuries and a head coach who doesnt exactly have the best track record in the motivation department, and youve got disaster.

The Cavaliers' 17-point loss to the Celtics was their 18th in a row, and their 28th in the last 29 games; yet another brutal showing in a season thats grown so ugly that even Popeye Jones is offended.

And its only natural for Celtics fans to get at least a little satisfaction out of that.

After all, over the last three years, theres been an unbelievable amount of anger and animosity built up towards the orange and yellow (or whichever of their million uniform combos theyre wearing on a given night).

In the 2008 playoffs, the Cavs took the Cs to the brink of elimination and would have ended their season if not for a legendary performance by Paul Pierce and the genius of PJ Brown. In the two seasons that followed, the Cavs won a combined 127 regular-season games (the Cs only won 112) and twice finished the as the Easts No. 1 seed. At one point, they beat Boston eight straight times at the Q.

And over that time, whether or not it ever played out that way, the Cavs always felt like the biggest threat to the Celtics Eastern Conference supremacy. Other than the Lakers, who only popped up twice a year anyway, Cleveland was the Celtics' biggest rival.

And then, with one pathetic playoff series, followed by one pathetic TV special, the Cavs were dead.

In an instant, they became the team we all casually joked they would.

Now, theyve just become a joke.

For years, the CavsCeltics games were two of the best three home games of the seasons. They were the games that always gave off the biggest playoff vibe. They were the games that felt like they actually had playoff implications; where if you had tickets there was always that moment when you thought: You know, I could probably sell these for A LOT of money right now. You never did. But you knew it was a big deal that you were going.

But that was then. Now, you might have trouble giving away those Cavs tickets. Now its the kind of game that the Cs use as a tune-up for their long-injured starting center, where you see Luke Harangody in the first quarter, where you watch without ever worrying about the outcome.

Now, the Cavs are . . .

I dont know, who the hell are they?

Christian Eyenga? Samardo Samuels? Who knew Manny Harris was actually in the NBA?

Theyre the worst team in basketball.

And while that might not all be about LeBron (theyd be a little better with a healthy Anderson Varejao and a less-scorned Mo Williams), it doesnt change the reality. In less than six months, the Cleveland Cavaliers have gone from a 66-win, Finals favorite to a team thats on pace for 16 wins and enough ping-pong balls to make Forrest Gump all tingly (although maybe not anymore since hes got to be in his late 60s).

The Cavs were maybe the sharpest thorn in the Celtics side. Now theyre a withered old toothpick. And that should be reason to celebrate in Boston. After all, we've celebrated every Cleveland loss for the last three years. It's only natural to see that uniform, fall back into that mode, and maybe have some fun with this runaway dumpsters of a season.

But on closer inspection: It's impossible.

With the Cavs, the animosity's gone. The hatred's all been transferred to Miami. There's nothing else left, and in the end, you just feel bad.

It's not like you want the Cavs contending every season, but nobody deserves to go down the way they have.

Its like, imagine if your worst enemy just some guy you really hate went on The Bachelorette. Except for this season, the twist is that the Bacherloette was the guy's actual wife.

It was him, a bunch of other single guys, and his wife.

Totally embarrassing, but this guy loved his wife THAT much. He was willing to do anything, just to get her back.

Now imagine he goes through the whole thing, all the ups and downs, and makes it to the Final 2. Then on the last show, the wifebachelorette invites his entire family to the set, kneels down before him on national TV, and picks the other dude.

Admit it, youd feel bad.

And if not then, youd definitely feel bad when you ran into the guy six months later and learned that since the divorce hed been fired for appearing on the show, gained 50 pounds and now spends his lunch at Centerfold's All-You-Can-Eat Buffet.

Now that's sad. Whoever it is.

And anyway, you start talking and realize that since his wife left, the guy's not even that big of a jerk. Turns out she was always the worst thing about him.

Rich Levine's column runs each Monday, Wednesday and Friday on CSNNE.com. Rich can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrlevine33

Celtics miss an opportunity in first half with LeBron in foul trouble

Celtics miss an opportunity in first half with LeBron in foul trouble

CLEVELAND – There are 240 minutes of play in an NBA game, but Boston’s 112-99 Game 4 loss to Cleveland came down to seven (six minutes and 46 seconds to be precise).

That would be the amount of time left in the second quarter that LeBron James spent on the bench with four personal fouls (a first for him in the first half of an NBA playoff game ever) and Boston ahead by 10 points.

Boston could not have asked for a better scenario than that, especially considering how well they had played up to that point in the game and again, knowing that James wasn’t about to set foot back on the court until the third quarter.

But here’s the problem.

Boston’s 10-point lead when James left with four fouls.

Halftime rolled around and Boston’s lead was still at just 10 points.

Celtics players agreed that not finding a way to increase their lead with James out was among the more pivotal stretches of play in Game 4.

“They did a really good job of not letting it (the 10-point lead) get out of control while he was on the bench,” Boston’s Marcus Smart told CSNNE.com. “Every time we scored, they came back and scored.  They answered back with everything we answered.”

While many will point to that stretch as a time when the Celtics failed to make the necessary adjustments to increase their chances of winning, it wasn’t as if the Cavs are a one-man team.

“They still have two All-Stars out on the court,” said Boston’s head coach Brad Stevens, referring to Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love. “With the best player in the world they go to unreal, but they’re still a pretty darned good team when those guys are out there.”

Irving had a playoff career-high 42 points which included him scoring 12 of Cleveland’s 14 points in the final 6:46 of the second with James on the bench.

“He’s one of the best point guards in the NBA, and you know, you can tell he puts in a lot of work in his game, a lot of respect from myself, my teammates,” said Avery Bradley. “We have to do a better job at defending him as a unit, trying to make everything hard on him. He definitely got a great rhythm going tonight, and I felt like we had a chance to make it harder on him.”

James still finished with a strong stat line for the night – 34 points, six assists, five rebounds and a blocked shot.

As good as he was on the court, the Celtics have to be kicking themselves for not doing more with the time James on the bench in the second quarter which in hindsight, was among the bigger factors in them now returning home facing elimination as opposed to being tied at two games apiece in this series.

“What are you going to do?” said Cleveland’s Kevin Love. “You have to continue to fight through it. At halftime, we were down 10. We made some adjustments on the defensive end and we just fought; we needed to. They got everything out of us tonight in that second half, but we played more inspired basketball as well.”

Stars, studs and duds: Celtics don't take advantage of LeBron's foul trouble

Stars, studs and duds: Celtics don't take advantage of LeBron's foul trouble

CLEVELAND – Here are the Stars, Studs and Duds from Tuesday night’s Game 4 matchup between Boston and Cleveland which ended with the Cavs rallying for a 112-99 win. Boston now trails Cleveland 3-1 in the best-of-seven series.

 

STARS

Kyrie Irving

He was simply the best player on the floor by a mile in Game 4 as he tallied a career playoff-high 42 points with 21 coming in the pivotal third quarter.

LeBron James

Despite picking up four personal fouls in the first half – a first for him in a playoff game ever – James bounced back with a dominant performance. He finished with 34 points, 15 of which came in the decisive fourth quarter. He also had six assists and five rebounds.

 

STUDS

Jae Crowder

He continues to be one of the more consistent Celtics in this series. In Game 4, he had 18 points on 6-for-12 shooting with eight rebounds and four assists.

Kevin Love

Most of Game 4, Kevin Love found ways to make life difficult for the Celtics. He ended up with a double-double of 17 points and 17 rebounds with five assists and two blocked shots.

Avery Bradley

Boston’s Game 3 hero couldn’t deliver like that in Game 4, but Bradley still managed to score a team-high 19 points to go with five rebounds, three assists and two steals.

 

DUDS

Boston’s sense of urgency

They had the Cavs in prime position to be beaten. But they didn’t play with the kind of effort and focus in the second half, that we saw through most of the first. And that 6:46 stretch in the second quarter when LeBron James was on the bench, and they didn’t increase their lead? That was a major, major factor in the game’s outcome.