1. Fed-Up Williams Fires Up Cavs, LeBron
ESPN The Magazine
CLEVELAND -- There's no gentle way to put this: Mo Williams was being abused. Eaten up. Destroyed.
Rajon Rondo was treating him as if he had the mobility of a cardboard cutout. Ray Allen was shooting over him and posting him up as if he were a child. Cleveland Cavaliers coach Mike Brown had to honestly be considering how many Mo Williams-less lineups he might employ against the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
Then it happened.
Like a schoolboy who'd been bullied one too many times, Williams erupted.
After stealing a Rondo pass midway through the third quarter, he went all LeBron James on Paul Pierce. After driving down the right side of the lane, the 6-foot-1 Williams soared over the 6-7 Pierce, dunking over him right-handed and turning Quicken Loans Arena, and the game, upside down.
The Cavs, who had trailed by 11 points before Williams' slam, outscored the Celtics by 17 the rest of the way and went on to a 101-93 victory in Game 1 of this best-of-seven series.
The dunk, which Williams called his greatest since high school, was his first slam since joining the Cavaliers in the summer of 2008. Brown hadn't even known his starting point guard could dunk.
"I told Mo a long time ago that if he ever dunked a basketball in a game, it was definitely going to spark us in some way that we haven't been sparked before," James said. "He just looked at me and laughed. Not only did it fire up the whole team, it fired himself up."
For the next few minutes, Williams dominated, scoring 10 straight Cavaliers points to put them back in the game. It was as if he were on the court by himself, practicing his offensive moves against nothing but his shadow.
The possession after the dunk, he sank a 19-foot step-back jumper. Then he drove down the right side of the lane for a one-handed runner. Then came another 19-footer, then two free throws. Williams was the only Cavalier taking shots, and it was all good. His solo run pulled them to within five points and gave all the momentum to the home team.
"One thing we do is if a guy has it going, we're going to go to him," said Williams, who had 14 of his 20 points and 2 of his 6 assists in the third quarter. "And that was my time throughout that game. We're such a loaded team that we go through stretches where we go to guys."
The Cavs went to their superstars, LeBron and Shaq, after Williams had his run. James closed out the third by driving past, through and around three Celtics and finishing over Glen Davis to give the Cavs a 79-78 lead, their first since the 8:12 mark of the opening quarter.
It was an odd game for James. Not odd in that he wasn't productive -- he posted 35 points, 7 assists, 7 rebounds, 3 steals and 2 blocks -- but odd in that until late in the game, he eschewed the jump shot.
Playing with a strained and bruised right elbow, James drove to the hoop or posted up almost exclusively in the first three quarters, through which he took only three jump shots. James admitted he wasn't playing his normal game until Williams cornered him in the third, effectively saying "Be yourself."
"I stayed close to the rim," said James, who made 12 of 24 shots. "I tried not to hyperextend it any worse than it was. Did I come out a little tentative? I thought about [my elbow] a little bit too much. Mo could see me thinking about it. It's kind of the first real injury I've had to play with, especially with it being on my shooting hand. I came out tentative, but if I'm on the court, then I have to be productive."
Oh, he was productive. In fact, if you're a Cavs fan, you have to like a James whose first, second and third option is to attack the basket with reckless abandon. But in the fourth quarter, he showed his entire package, sinking two 3s in scoring 12 points.
It wasn't all James down the stretch. With the game tied at 90, he fed Shaq in the post. These are the moments for which the Cavs got Shaq, and the Big Fella didn't disappoint, spinning around Kendrick Perkins and converting an up-and-under move that broke the tie for good and started an 11-3 game-ending run.
But even though Shaq scored six of his 11 points in the fourth, the night belonged to Williams, who has faced fire thus far in these playoffs. In the first round against Chicago, he had to cover the ultraexplosive Derrick Rose, who averaged 27 points and seven assists against him.
Saturday, it was Rondo who was taking it to him. Driving around Williams at will, Rondo caused straight-up havoc in the paint, scoring and dishing his way to 19 points and eight assists -- by halftime. That's the biggest reason Boston led 54-43 at the break.
In the second half, Brown put Anthony Parker on Rondo, who finished with 27 points and 12 assists, and Williams on Allen. The Celtics shooting guard buried back-to-back 3-pointers and scored on a short jumper off the block against the shorter Williams.
Eventually, Williams must've said to himself, "Self, if you can't beat 'em, join 'em," or maybe it was, "The best defense is some hellacious offense."
Williams, who later was clearly giddy about his first facial, said the dunk was all instinct and he actually had been looking for the lob to James, who was trailing on the play. But Pierce didn't bite, so Williams was left to fend for himself.
"I thought he would block the layup," Williams said. "My intention was to kind of shoot what I call a floater layup and try to fade away from him so he couldn't get to it. Then I realized I was a little high, so I was like, 'I think I might try it.' It turned out good. It was a great feeling; I'll tell you that."
The Cavs will tell you that, too.
2. LeBron The Only Choice For MVP
LeBron James will become only the 10th player in NBA history to hoist the MVP trophy in consecutive seasons Monday when he's presented the award in Akron, Ohio. James received 109 of a possible 121 first-place votes, but he was the unanimous choice in ESPN.com's experts' poll. Here's why:
Henry Abbott, TrueHoop: I hate to be hyperbolic, but sometimes superlatives are accurate: When we look back at this season decades from now, "best player in the league" will be far too timid in describing the reign King James has started. He's a mighty candidate to be the best player ever. If James doesn't win in a landslide, voters must be drug-tested.
J.A. Adande, ESPN.com: It's not just the Oscar Robertsonian numbers. It's the attitude. He doesn't let the Cavaliers take nights off (even when he does himself, he still cheers the Cavaliers to close games). Of the team's 18 regular-season losses, seven were by three points or fewer.
Chris Broussard, ESPN The Magazine: Two things are both unbelievable and scary at the same time: As phenomenal as he's been, LeBron is still getting better, and he's still got room for improvement.
Jemele Hill, Page 2: Despite past achievements, LeBron followed the paths of other greats and found ways to expand his game. He did work in the post and made himself into a reliable jump shooter. He's also one of the best defenders in the league. His blocks are arguably more impressive than his dunks.
Tim Legler, ESPN: He's the best player on the best team in the league, which happens to also be the best team he has played on in Cleveland. He dominates games effortlessly and has the same impact on both ends. Clearly the best player on the planet.
Dr. Jack Ramsay, ESPN Radio: He has been dominant in so many categories. The Cavs had the league's best record, and he is the main reason why.
3. Daily Dime Live Recap
ESPN.com writers and NBA playoff fans chatted it up throughout Saturday's Game 1 of the East semifinals matchup between the Cavs and Celtics in Daily Dime Live.
4. Extreme Behavior
Mo Williams, Cavs
Mo knows comebacks. With LeBron sluggish and the Cavs struggling, Williams gave Cleveland the spark it needed in the second half, scoring 16 of his 20 points after halftime.
Paul Pierce, Celtics
Missing: one headband-wearing crunch-time scorer. Eight days after dropping Miami in Game 3 with a 3-point dagger, Pierce was just 1-for-7 in the fourth quarter. He finished with 13 points on 5-for-17 shooting.
QUOTE OF THE NIGHT
"You knew it was coming. I thought toward the end of the second quarter he started his assault."
-- Celtics coach Doc Rivers on LeBron
5. NBA Video Channel
6. All The Raj
7. New Mavs Make The Grade?
Caron Butler: B-
Butler, acquired in the big Josh Howard trade, was supposed to bring toughness to a finesse team. He got off to a rocky shooting start but gradually picked up his game as the season moved along, averaging 15.2 points and 5.4 rebounds in 27 regular-season games with the Mavs.
The playoffs were a mixed bag. In the early part of the series with San Antonio, Butler took a lot of jumpers, converting on about 38 percent. Mavs coach Rick Carlisle was so displeased at his volume shooting and lazy defense that he benched Butler for the entire second half of the Game 3 loss. Butler bounced back and scored a career playoff-best 35 points in Game 5 and 25 in Game 6. But his expiring contract would make it attractive in a trade package, especially if the Mavs are ready to insert Roddy Beaubois into the starting lineup.
Brendan Haywood: C-
Few players make the kind of instant impact that Haywood did. Because Erick Dampier got hurt in Haywood's first game with the team, the new acquisition immediately jumped into the starting lineup. He quickly produced double-doubles and excited a fan base not used to a dominant inside presence. It wouldn't last all that long.
Carlisle took issue with Haywood, especially on defense, and reverted to Dampier as the starter. Haywood's response to the first time Carlisle flopped his centers? "I just work here," not the kind of response a coach wants to hear. The Mavs will study the kind of interest Haywood draws from around the league while monitoring other possibilities before considering bringing him back into the fold.
To read the entire column, click here.
8. Beginner's Luck?
How much of an impact did Mo Williams' first career dunk as a member of the Cavaliers have on Game 1? Well, it completely swung the game in Cleveland's favor. Cleveland went on a 21-9 run to end the third quarter starting with Williams' slam over Paul Pierce.
Cavaliers, Game 1
|Before dunk||After dunk|
|FG||21-48 (44%)||17-30 (57%)|
|Opp .FG||27-52 (52%)||9-29 (31%)|
The only thing more entertaining than the dunk was the response of Cavs coach Mike Brown, as Kevin Arnovitz points out.
9.Kicking Off West Semis