Stonecutter's Delight

May, 29, 2009
5/29/09
12:30
AM ET

The Cleveland Cavaliers beat the Orlando Magic by ten points in Game 5.

Don't let the final score fool you. This was essentially Orlando's game -- they scared the Cleveland crowd into near silence much of the night.

But inside the final five minutes, the Cavaliers had amazing success stubbornly calling the same simple play again and again, and it won them the game.

In general, it seems to me, the Cleveland offense is good when it features movement. Shooters, cutting, passing, layups, dunks ... this is what this team has learned to do! At its worst, on the other hand, ten players are standing still. This patented Cleveland bog down, most of the time, is a victory in and of itself for Orlando. LeBron James, catching the ball on the move, is probably the most efficient scoring machine in the NBA. With James alone with the ball, and everyone standing still watching, that can't happen.

It's reminiscent of the way the Cavaliers played when were swept in the NBA Finals by the Spurs two years ago. At that time, I and others wrote about the saying on the wall in Cleveland Coach Mike Brown's office (Gregg Popovich, a Brown mentor, cites the same quote). It's from Jacob August Riis:

"When nothing seems to help, I go and look at a stonecutter hammering away at his rock perhaps a hundred times without as much as a crack showing in it. Yet at the hundred and first blow it will split in two, and I know it was not that blow that did it, but all that had gone before."

In some contexts, this quote can seem heroic. But viewed as the motivation to continuously lack creativity in deploying the best player in the game ... it can seem hard-headed beyond sense.

But not tonight.

The true "everybody watch LeBron" offense began just inside the six-minute mark. James caught the ball at the free throw line, while all of his teammates stood waiting in the wings. After making his move he missed, and fell down. It was a two-point game.

Cleveland then ran the same play four out of five times.

The first time James scored over Rafer Alston. The second time, James dished to Daniel Gibson for a 3.

The third possession in the sequence -- a real play with cutting and everything -- was clearly a mistake, as it resulted in a Mo Williams missed 3.

For the fourth, James dribbled out most of the clock, catching his breath, and then faded for two points. The fifth, he dished to a cutting Anderson Varejao, who missed the dunk, but James got the board, and Cleveland set up the same play again. James scored while fouling out Orlando's leader, Dwight Howard. James also hit the "and one" free throw. 

By that time, thanks to this play -- which had delivered ten points on four possessions -- the Cavaliers were up eight with 2:21 to play, and it felt like the game was decided for the home team.

For good measure, the Cavaliers ran the same play twice more, resulting in a James step-back two, and another dish to Varejao, who this time completed a three-point play. 

Final tally: Six momentous possessions. One boring play. 15 crucial points. One big win.

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