INDEPENDENCE — Just five days ago, the Cavaliers were teetering on the brink of disaster, having lost the first two games in the Eastern Conference semifinals to the Boston Celtics.
“We felt we had a lot of adjustments to make to win games,” guard Daniel Gibson said Tuesday after practice at Cleveland Clinic Courts. “Things didn’t go very well for us and we had a lot of work to do to get back in this series.
“Now, after winning twice at home, we feel like the ball is in their court to make adjustments. It doesn’t scare us going back to Boston and we’re not nervous about it.”
And so, the stage is set for Game 5 tonight at TD Banknorth Garden, where either Cleveland or Boston will take a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven series.
If the first four games are any indication, fans should expect a low-scoring, highly physical matchup that may hinge on how well the Cavaliers take care of the basketball.
In Games 1 and 2 in Boston, Cleveland committed 33 turnovers that led to 35 Celtics points. LeBron James was the worst offender, tying his team record with 10 in the opener and adding seven in the next game.
Upon returning to Quicken Loans Arena, the Cavaliers stopped treating the basketball like a hand grenade. James dealt out 21 assists to offset his six turnovers, while the team had just 19 giveaways in eight quarters.
Not coincidentally, those numbers added up to back-to-back home wins — and put Cleveland in a good position to pull off the biggest upset in this year’s NBA playoffs.
“We have to take care of the basketball and we have to keep the turnovers down or else it’s going to be a long, long night,” coach Mike Brown said. “We haven’t done a good job of that in Boston, so we have to make sure everyone is on the same page and is executing like we are at home.”
While the Cavaliers have been especially careless in their postseason losses, a good deal of credit for their bad passes, dribbling woes and offensive fouls should be given to the Celtics.
Boston assistant coach Tom Thibodeau, who is regarded as one of the brightest defensive minds in the league, has created a complex, swarming scheme that has forced James to initiate plays from well outside the 3-point arc.
The Celtics aren’t picking James’ pocket — guards Ray Allen and Rajon Rondo lead the team with a mere five steals apiece — as much as they are forcing him to fling the ball out of bounds or commit charges.
“Our (53-19) assist-to-turnover ratio is much better the last two games, but we know we can’t turn the basketball over anymore,” guard Wally Szczerbiak said. “We feel a lot better about ourselves because we righted the ship at home and we’re ready to go back to Boston.
“We could have gotten Game 1, we were right there, and in Game 2 we got off to a great start. I don’t think there is any question that we can win, but we have to play well for 48 minutes.”
Considering the Celtics have yet to lose at home this postseason, it’s not going to be easy for Cleveland to play a complete game tonight. Add in a Beantown crowd that is sure to be boisterous and the fear that the officials may tip things in favor of the Celtics, and the obstacles in front of the Cavaliers become even more daunting.
“As long as your guys are cheering for you on the bench, you’re all right,” Gibson said confidently. “It’s going to be loud, but when you hit a big shot and everyone gets quiet, that’s probably the best noise ever. That’s what I want to hear.”
Contact Brian Dulik at email@example.com.