In Game 5 defeat, LeBron's mind on family concerns
CLEVELAND -- LeBron James was hoping to spend Wednesday night celebrating the Cavaliers' first berth in the Eastern Conference Finals in 15 years. Instead he ended up in a rush to be at his girlfriend's side after a deflating and momentum-changing defeat.
At halftime of the Nets' 83-72 blowout win -- yes, it was a blowout, the final differential notwithstanding -- James' longtime girlfriend, Savannah Brinson, had to be taken from Quicken Loans Arena on a stretcher to seek medical attention. She is eight months pregnant with James' second son.
A few moments later, after an inadvertent Richard Jefferson elbow opened a gash on his nose and caused a stoppage in play, The Rascals "Good Lovin'' started booming over the P.A. system during the brief timeout.
As the lyric "Now don't you want your baby to feel all right?" sounded, there's no telling what went through James' mind.
"I've got a family at home I need to worry about more than basketball," James said. "I think she's OK, from the little bit of information I have."
Whether or not it was genuine, James and the Cavs seemed to play distracted in the third quarter.
Which, mixed with some of the Nets' best play in the series, removed much of the drama from Game 5. They nailed 12-of-18 shots to extend the lead to 22 points and were able to ride it to victory.
After each loss in the series, which the Cavs lead 3-2, the Nets have expressed they didn't think they were being outplayed, rather they were victims of poor fortune and circumstance. They've certainly proved they can better the better team on occasion, winning Games 3 and 5 by double digits and humbling the Cavs with their energy and intensity in both.
There was no new strategy on Wednesday, the game plan was the same it has been throughout the series.
While James may have been mentally taxed, he was physically suffocated. Whether the Nets were in a zone or just sagging extra bodies in the paint, with each step James took closer to the rim the less personal space he enjoyed.
The Jersey philosophy has been so simple, it was the same idea the Washington Wizards had in Round 1.
Only they're not nearly as good of a defensive team as the Nets and the Cavs aren't taking advantage nearly as well. It goes like this: take the ball out of James' hands and make the others come through.
Sometimes it is going to make you look bad, but it sure does level the playing field. In the five games, James has taken 91 shots and handed out 43 assists. Larry Hughes, the guy who ends up on the backside of the defense when James starts a party in the paint, has taken 90 shots. Never a good jump shooter in his career, after going a miserable 3-of-17 in Game 5 Hughes has made just 30 of those shots in the series.
"We have to execute better," Hughes said. "I can't play this way and expect our team to win."
By going to a smaller lineup, playing Bostjan Nachbar at 4 and Mikki Moore at 5, the Nets have forced the Cavs to make decisions with the offensive big men Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Drew Gooden. Ilgauskas can't stay with Moore on pick-and-rolls, and Gooden has trouble getting out to defend Nachbar on the perimeter.
The Nets, meanwhile, have generally done a better job supporting Vince Carter as the Cavs have tried the same defensive tactics. Carter scored just 12 points in Game 5, but his 10 assists made him extremely effective.
As such, New Jersey's been right in every game, which has given them confidence. Confidence that is only growing now that they're headed back to the Meadowlands, where they had a 10-game winning streak before the Cavs snapped it in Game 4.
"We didn't come to Cleveland to get beat," Kidd said. "We've just beein giving ourselves chances to win."
Brian Windhorst covers the NBA for the Akron Beacon Journal.
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