James has cast a spell on this playoff series, which has the Celtics spending much time debating whether it makes sense to stop him or simply resign themselves to him getting his and to try to shut down everyone else.
Two hours before game time, an assistant coach opened his Apple laptop and sat with Semi Ojeleye, a muscular and athletic 6-foot-7 rookie. They studied annotated film from the last game. It had been this rookie’s fate to try to cover James, and as James scored 44 points in Game 4, this was not relentlessly upbeat viewing.
The coach was encouraging, though. Maybe shade James a little more on this drive, face up to him more on that one. Then came a play in which James spun left and then back to the right with vertiginous speed, reared back on one leg and from 19 feet shot a high arcing shot that fell through the net without a ripple.
There is a couple of seconds of silence between the two men. The coach shrugs.
Ojeleye curses softly.
Yeah, well, says the coach. Let’s move on.
They did. The Celtics came rumbling out to start the game, attacking the basket. They led by 32-19 at the end of the first quarter and by double figures at halftime. All game long, the Cavaliers toggled between the suburbs and exurbs of contention, before moving decisively to distant rural reaches in the last six minutes.
Lue was more candid than was his usual custom after the game, opining that his superstar and meal ticket, L. James, “looked a little tired to me, yes.”
More baffling was Lue’s answer to a question about why he did not use more of Kyle Korver, his sharpshooting 3-point specialist. He said that Brad Stevens, the Celtics’ coach, had mixed up his own rotations and that “kind of threw us for a loop.”