|LeBron James had 21 points, but he found the going tough when he penetrated the lane against the Celtics in Game 2. (Jim Davis/Globe Staff)|
Essentially, Doc Rivers wanted the Celtics to make life miserable for LeBron James any way they could.
All night, the Celtics had their hands up and arms out, making the lane look like the last leg of a car wash.
"[James] makes those bullet passes," Rivers said. "And we're trying to take those passes away."
James brushed off his 6-for-24 shooting night pretty quickly after the Cavaliers' 89-73 loss last night in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference semifinal series. But the NBA's leading scorer cannot easily brush off his seven turnovers.
"That's the frustrating thing," he said.
That, of course, is the point, according to Paul Pierce.
The Celtics captain had James all but hog-tied, but James acknowledged that Boston's other "athletic bigs" were annoying as well.
"You've got guys 6-10, 7 feet putting their arms out, showing on the pick-and-rolls, crowding him on traps," Pierce said. "That makes it tough on him and it puts him in a position where he has to start pressing things."
Usually, James turns the paint into his personal HOV lane, but by the fourth quarter Pierce had him settling for threes.
"This is what we work on when we go into the scouting report," Pierce said. "When we come to practice, we work on trying to contain him."
In two games, the Celtics have managed to make James look pedestrian, holding him to 8-for-42 shooting with 17 turnovers.
"LeBron is what makes them go," Pierce said. "And if we can somehow control him, we control their team."
James credited his struggles to the Celtics' defense, but part of it is just bad karma.
"The layups that usually go down for me are just jumping out of the rim," he said. "And the jumpers just are not going down for me."
Cavaliers coach Mike Brown said he's confident his star will right himself.
"I'm going to go back and watch the tape, but I thought LeBron had a few wide-open jump shots and more good looks," said Brown. "I thought he got to the rim a couple of times and the ball just rolled out. But you've got to give the Celtics credit because they are a physical team, and they bang you to try to wear you down."
James's struggles appear to be having an effect on his teammates. At one point, the Cavaliers combined to clank 27 of 31 shots.
For example, Anderson Varejao, who was smothered by Kevin Garnett, didn't drop in a field goal until the third quarter.
"[Garnett's] the defensive player of the year for a reason," James said. "He's playing that back line and reading what goes on behind him and in front of him, so we have to do a better job of keeping him off balance."
Rivers said strategically his squad isn't reinventing the wheel when it comes to defending James.
"LeBron's seen every defense you could throw at him," Rivers said. "Some nights it works, some nights it doesn't."
The past two games, it has.
Julian Benbow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.