If a seventh grade boys basketball team isn’t bringing the pain in the playoffs, parents will blame the coach. (And the tall, lanky kid with no coordination who can’t play basketball . . . but is, as previously mentioned, tall.)
But if an elite NBA team isn’t bringing the pain in the playoffs, should fans blame the coach?
Every now and then, the tenuousness of Mike Brown’s job security comes up in Cleveland . . . generally after losses. Bad losses. And sadly, but not surprisingly, it’s being talked about again now.
The Cavaliers second round series against the Boston Celtics is tied-up at 2-2. That isn’t necessarily unexpected (although, I did have Cleveland in five, which, obviously, is no longer mathematically possible) . . . but the Cavs’ lackluster effort has been surprising. And alarming. And confusing.
It just doesn’t make a lot of sense.
So last night, my friend Sam Greenspan and I had a conversation about Mike Brown and the Cavaliers’ energy, and I thought I’d share it.
Here it is in hopefully-easy-to-read interview format:
W&GR: How much do you pin the Cavaliers’ apparent effort / intensity lapses on Coach Mike Brown? Some say it’s his job to make sure the team is in peak form mentally, physically, and strategically for the games, yet others say that there is only so much a coach can do when his team is failing to bring it for a playoff game.
J.D.: Rather than wasting time trying to make sense of this, I’d rather just pin it on Coach Brown and hope that he can rally the team in time to ensure that the Cavs don’t accidentally boot this series. But in order to do that, I have to consider what Brown could have done . . . that he didn’t.
And I don’t know. I don’t know what you do or say to motivate a team for a playoff game against a supposed rival during a supposed title march. Do you say “Let’s go, guys! Let’s crush the Celtics!” Or do you say “Let’s do it, guys! Let’s destroy the Celtics!” It’s Coach Brown’s responsibility to get the Cavs up for an away-away back-to-back game against a team like the Indiana Pacers in November. It seems reasonable for him to leave the players to get fired up on their own in the playoffs, so that he can deal with more pressing matters . . . like what the hell to do with Rajon Rondo, so that he doesn’t look significantly better than the Cavs ordinarily make their opposing point guards look.
Feel free to roast Mike Brown for gameplan-oriented issues – and if we fall short of our goal, plenty of people will – but from what I’ve seen, the inconsistent effort is the #1 thing keeping us from beating the Celtics right now, and I’m not sure I can put that on Brown.
No matter what glasses / tie combination Brown utilizes, his work isn’t sexy. If the team wins, LeBron and X and X role players get the credit. If they lose, Brown takes the heat.
Sam: I really don’t know how much to pin on Mike Brown, but I do think it’s do-or-die for his career right now. My issue with Mike Brown centers far more on his ability to make in-game adjustments. It’s seeming more and more like the Cavs come up with a pregame plan. If they execute it properly and the opposition doesn’t throw anything in the mix to screw with it, they win. As soon as something starts going wrong it takes Brown a half or a full game before he adjusts. It’s painful to watch . . . you know that if the game starts going poorly, the only chance at a win is LeBron having a superhuman game. That’s not going to win championships.
As for the lack of intensity, I just don’t know what to make of it. No one in Cleveland can possibly understand it. Did they become complacent because, since February, they’ve been able to play games where they slacked off for three quarters, turning the ball over, missing free throws, watching passes
bounce off J.J.’s hands, and then been able to win by turning it on in the fourth quarter? Did the habits they developed become more overwhelming than we thought? I just don’t know. We’re nine playoff games in. They’ve had their proverbial “punch in the mouth” — an epic blowout loss at home. They responded great for one game, then went right back to dogging it the next game. Can anything light a sustained fire under them? I have no idea.
What I do know is that I’ve found myself in “tempering expectations” mode. Orlando is playing some of the best basketball in history. The Cavs are letting Rajon Rondo put up numbers that Jordan wasn’t putting up in his prime. Other than Game Three of this Boston series, has there been a single sign that the Cavs should truly be considered contenders at this point? If they do win this series — which is REALLY no guarantee — will anyone in the world pick them to get past Orlando?
W&GR: One of the problems with the Cavs’ offense appears to be a lack of premeditation. Typically, the Cavs have (mostly) lived and (rarely) died under LeBron James’ freelancing hand at the reins of the offense . . . but in times like these, should Mike Brown assert himself and attempt to overrule LeBron on the running of the offense? He may not be an offensive-minded coach, but with input from his staff, they could draw up an actual play for each possession. Or, do you think this would upset the apple cart even more?
J.D.: It’s unclear just how much freedom Mo Williams and Delonte West have to call their own plays, but it seems like they have too much. Mo looks great when he cuts with the ball – baseline or through the paint – because it’s a more defense-disrupting way of getting the ball to Shaq, another big, or even an on-the-move LeBron James. But it doesn’t happen enough.
Mo runs a lot of simple plays . . . soft lobs inside, or two-man pick-and-rolls . . . without much movement on the weakside or through the paint. That, and/or he gives the ball up to LeBron too quickly. He needs to push the ball more, and look for opportunities to get the defense on their heels.
Delonte, however, used to be great at mixing things up by denying LeBron the ball when LBJ was 26-feet from the basket, and pushed the offense ahead, until LeBron and/or the other gears were in better position. But Delonte wasn’t good in Game Four. He did a lot of dribbling, didn’t seem to have any idea what to do with the ball, and ended up taking some bad shots. He had one assist in 20 minutes.
So yes, I think more calls from the bench – if they aren’t already coming regularly – would instill some creativity in the offense, and remind the Cavs of plays that have been successful in the past.
As for LeBron, I don’t know, man. There are so many possessions where he creates a sweet shot for a teammate. Sometimes they finish, sometimes they don’t. There are also a lot of frustrating, aimless possessions where LeBron just does some stationary dribbling, and then takes a contested, unnecessary 20-footer. Sometimes he makes it, sometimes he doesn’t. Those kinds of things need to be cut, but you do want LeBron looking out for opportunities. Maybe there should just be more communication . . . so the rest of the guys on the floor can move off-the-ball to try to free themselves.
Sam: I think Brown has to do something at this point. It comes down to his inability to do in-game adjustments. Sunday, it was clear LeBron wasn’t going to get any easy paths to the basket. The Celtics were collapsing on him and causing either turnovers on bad interior passing, kick outs to the ice-cold jump shooters or, most frequently, LeBron complaining about not getting a call and failing to get back on defense. In that case, something different needs to happen. Send LeBron to the post. Get Mo Williams the hell out of the game and put in Gibson — his defense can’t be any worse than Mo’s — and maybe he’ll make a shot. Do anything. Anything.
W&GR: Considering the staleness of the Cavs’ offensive and (at times) defensive effort, should Mike Brown have a quicker trigger on bringing in some of his deeper bench depth? Would utilizing Zydrunas
Ilguaskas, Leon Powe, Jamario Moon and Daniel Gibson more give the Cavs a spark and/or the potential for a successful new look, or again, would that just exacerbate the problems?
J.D.: Jamario Moon feels like a no-brainer at this point.
I think I’d also like to see Z a little more. Yes, he may be a liability on defense, but who hasn’t been? It’s not like we’d ask him to guard Rondo or Garnett. I think we could bring him in, and see if he can get his pick-and-pop shot going. Maybe he could get some open looks against Boston’s defense. If not, we can move on to the next thing. Plus, it wouldn’t be horrible to have Z in the game to get a few offensive rebounds / tip-ins. Also, he’d be another big obstacle Rondo would have to work around if he makes it to the rim or tries a floater. I can’t believe I’m thinking like that, but oh well. I’m not feeling Powe. Like Z, Boobie’s shot would be so huge if we could get him going . . . without him being any more of a liability on defense than what we currently have.
Sam: I don’t know that Powe has a place in this series but Moon’s lack of playing time is mind boggling. He’s a long, athletic, motivated defender who’s actually been hitting his shots in the playoffs. Why not give him some of Mo’s minutes and put him on Rondo for a different look. (As much as people are praising Anthony Parker, he’s getting murdered out there. Make Rondo have to guess what’s going to happen.) Mo Williams is giving the Cavs nothing at this point. Nothing. I’m not saying to bench him completely, I recognize how ridiculous that notion is and how he has potential to get hot and change a game like Game One, but at least throw Gibson out there to see what happens. I don’t know about Ilguaskas. I have a bad feeling about him being out there. But why not? Somebody has to do something. Again, just do anything. Somebody please. Anything.
In Game Four the Celtics had Tony Allen step up. Tony Allen! It was a gift that he was on the floor and he ended up being one of the heroes. Unbelievable. A few games ago, it was Rasheed Wallace. It’s one of those things that happens against Cleveland teams but never FOR Cleveland teams. But Varejao hasn’t looked like himself all playoffs, joining the super erratic play of Mo, Delonte, and even Jamison. I want to type “at some point, someone’s going to have to step up” — but we’re nine games in. It’s just hard to look at this situation and see that happening.
This is all extraordinarily pessimistic, and I hate being that way. But, at some point, you have to stop wondering when the Cavs are going to wake up and play like champions and switch that to IF the Cavs are going to wake up and play like champions. It’s not a 2-2 series that has driven me and so many others to this extreme. The Celtics are playing great and we didn’t expect the Cavs to sweep their way through a much more difficult bracket this year. But, after watching nine games and seeing exactly ONE where the Cavs had a start-to-finish championship-caliber effort — versus, say, Orlando’s eight start-to-finish championship-caliber efforts — this 2-2 series sure doesn’t feel good.
I hope I’m wrong. And deep down, I still have hope — the same hope that was there when the Cavs were getting murdered by the Spurs in the Finals, the same hope that was there when the Indians let the 3-1 lead slip away against the Red Sox but seemed to have a chance in Game 7. But if the Cavs players can’t muster the energy to really care, I have to remind myself that I shouldn’t either. We’re getting closer and closer to the most disappointing postseason in Cleveland history and not a single player — not even LeBron — really seems to have any sense of urgency when it comes to changing that.
One of my favorite NBA quotes – in pseudo-recent history – was in the summer of 2006, when then-New York Knick Nate Robinson ripped his then-departing coach Larry Brown for taking away his “joy.”
He told the “New York Post”:
“Coach Brown is so old-school. He want everything done just like this, not getting the crowd involved. Isiah [Thomas] wants everyone to have fun.
“At first [Brown] was trying to take my joy away . . . ‘don’t do this, don’t do that.’ At the same time I had people in my corner saying ‘Don’t change who you are. You got here by being Nate Robinson.’”
I love that. A lot. For some reason, the idea of Larry Brown robbing Nate Robinson of his “joy” just gets me. It still makes me laugh. Especially now that we know how that “everyone having fun” mantra played out in New York with Isiah and Nate . . . both of whom, of course, are no longer around.
I bring this up now – almost four years later – because of something I thought about in the latter stages of the Cleveland Cavaliers’ first round playoff match-up with the Chicago Bulls:
The Cavs just aren’t playing with any joy.
And I’m being serious. It’s something that has been a significant part of their make-up for the past two years, at least . . . ever since LeBron James has been surrounded with enough talent to play solid, legitimate, and often dominant team basketball.
LeBron has been credited with setting the fun tone. His love and enjoyment of the game, his trust in his teammates, his excitement for their individual and collective successes, and his general playfulness and relaxed nature have created what appears to be the best team environment in the NBA. And maybe even in professional sports.
It’s on- and off-the-court chemistry. It’s off-the-charts chemistry.
Last year, there were pre-game antics . . . the picture-taking and whatnot . . . and this year, there’s the “goosenecks,” plus the elaborate personalized handshakes, and as always, the bench’s notorious in-game cheerleading.
During the regular season . . . in any random game of varying significance or insignificance . . . the Cleveland bench is visibly engaged in the game at all times. They pay close attention to the game, they leap up and dance whenever something exciting happens, and they usually jump up and walk out to congratulate their teammates as they’re coming back to the bench at a timeout.
In fact, before this season, the NBA warned teams to keep their bench . . . on the bench. Although the Association didn’t publicly call the Cavs out, it seemed directed toward them. Last season, the bench would regularly stand for long stretches during pivotal moments of the game, always prepared to explode the second the Cavs made a huge offensive or defensive play. (Well, Tarence Kinsey was prepared to explode, at least.)
[Under the new "guidelines," the players can still react to what's happening on the court, but they aren't supposed to stand while the game is going on . . . because it blocks the view of the seated fans in the expensive seats.]
This anti-standing “movement” was apparently spearheaded by a Chicago Bulls beat writer, who did call out the Cavs in particular for their “jerk”-ish, view-blocking behavior.
Speaking of Chicago, fast-forward into the season, to a Cavs game against the Bulls at The Q in December. In that one, LeBron was playfully dancing around all night . . . and it got under the skin of Joakim Noah, who began jawing at LeBron from the Bulls bench because he, apparently, wasn’t a fan. A few words and glares were exchanged, but in the end, it was just a case of the Bulls being frustrated.
But throughout the Cavs’ playoff series against the Bulls . . . there wasn’t a lot of smiling and there definitely wasn’t much dancing. The Cavs were in serious mode, and that’s OK. It’s playoff basketball, and it’s time to buckle up and get down to business.
Only the Cavaliers seemed reluctant to do any business. In fact, they didn’t even seem all that interested in the games they were playing. It was as if there was some other main event somewhere . . . and these pesky battles with the Bulls were merely a sideshow.
Cleveland may have walked away from the series 4-1, but they were lucky it didn’t drag out any more. The Cavs weren’t at the top of their game . . . and aside from sporadic moments in Games 1, 4 and 5, it wasn’t the most exciting entertainment to watch as a Cavs fan.
That’s when I started thinking: Maybe the Cavs are too tightly wound. Maybe it wasn’t that they weren’t taking the Bulls seriously . . . maybe it was that they were taking them (or the playoffs as a whole) tooseriously.
Right when the playoffs started, I remember reading an article by ESPN’s Chris Broussard called “Cavs Focused Like Never Before” . . . and in it, Broussard talked about how the whole team was adopting a more solemn, serious tone. Shaquille O’Neal was reportedly leading the way in this change in approach, perspective and focus.
Well, clearly something happened from then until now. It’s not worth hypothesizing, since focus can come and go. It can be easily lost and found . . . like keys, or Mo Williams’ shot. But regardless, maybe that isn’t the best approach. At least right now.
Think about it.
For players like LeBron and Shaq, the steely-eyed, super intense and serious demeanor can be very comfortable and empowering. Other veterans, like Antawn Jamison, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Anthony Parker, Anderson Varejao (defensively only) and Delonte West (defensively only) can also feed off this vibe.
But for others, no matter how locked-in they are, this approach might just be needlessly stressing. It might just be too much . . . especially with a superstar on the floor with them. A superstar that needs to win and is no longer joking around.
It might scare them into deferring to LeBron even more than they already do, it might suffocate their freedom to experiment and create, it might make them feel uncomfortable and unsure . . . it might make them feel like they’re walking on pins and needles, while carrying a Fabergé egg.
[In other words, it might make them appear worse than they are. Cavs fans know that LeBron has had a pretty impressive supporting cast this season . . . exponentially better than what we've seen in the playoffs.]
This list includes: Mo Williams, Anderson Varejao (especially offensively), Delonte West (especially offensively), J.J. Hickson, Jamario Moon and the forgotten Daniel Gibson.
It sounds like this would be bad . . . that these players can’t step up in big games or can’t be clutch. That’s not necessarily the case though. These players just seem more prone to have bigger impacts within a slightly more relaxed, loose style of play. And in moments that can’t be “loose,” these players . . . which can be more up and down emotionally . . . can step up to make “sense of the moment” plays.
Take Daniel Gibson: If there were five seconds before halftime, and I needed a three-pointer to close a gap to single-digits . . . I would not bring Boobie off the bench to take that shot. He’ll have a 20% chance of making it, at best. But in another situation, if he were playing (scoring or not) while the Cavs were making a thrilling comeback to close a game, and needed someone to take a three to win the game with five seconds left . . . I would make sure that’s Boobie’s shot. He’ll have an 80% chance of drilling it.
Yeah, I know, if Boobie’s hitting 80% of anything he’s not on the bench. It was for a point. But then again, he is on the bench, and he finished third in the NBA in 3-point shooting. So there you go.
OK, so how do you bring more “joy” to the Cavaliers? Especially when they’re not playing well . . . like most of the first two games of the Boston series.
I don’t know. I’m just a writer.
LeBron knows every guy on the team personally and professionally . . . off the court and on it. He understands what makes them tick . . . what buttons to push to get them going. That’s part of the reason he’s such a great teammate, and a lot of the reason he spends time trying to get them going early in games.
If he wanted to relax the solemn, serious tone around the team a little . . . which again, is typically appropriate for a team on a quest for its first championship . . . I think he could do it while building on any sense of urgency that is there.
Generally, it could be picking up the tempo, having the ball pushed up the court, encouraging teammates to run the floor, enforcing that the ball be passed from one side to the other in the half-court, challenging guys to find creative ways of getting Shaq the ball . . . if that’s what they’re going to do . . . or basically, starting a one-upping competition for finding / creating open shots for teammates.
And elbow issue or not, LeBron should also make sure everyone is on the same page: That the ball doesn’t need to go through him . . . if a shot is there without him “resetting” everything up top, it needs to be taken. Maybe relinquishing some control to his teammates would even free him up to do some more off-the-ball work/decoying.
On the defensive end, that’s where the “All Together” or “One for All” (or whatever slogan Cleveland is using) comes into play. LeBron (and the coaching staff) should instill a cocky mentality on that end of the floor. They need to preach that every ounce of effort will help seal holes . . . every help move will fortify walls . . . and every time someone gets a hand on the ball, or in someone’s face, it should be recognized. The Cavs should be taking pride in their defensive effort again . . . not taking it for granted and/or expecting to be able to turn on a “switch” when needed.
Even if the Cavs aren’t up by 10 or 15 points, a sense of pride, individual confidence and team trust could keep the loose, “joy”. Even if it’s the playoffs, they could be allowing themselves to have fun on the court. And even if they’re down by 10, they can know that they’re just about to make their pounce.
Maybe all this is stupid.
Playoff intensity should be “tough” . . . but at least for now, it’s just not working for the Cavaliers. Not much is. So, at least while they’re finding their groove, maybe they could just have some fun on the floor. At least that way, they’d be much more enjoyable to watch.
By sheer talent alone the Cavaliers are believed to be superior to the Celtics. Yes, Boston is definitely a very real adversary, but maybe the Cavs are tripping over their own feet a lot.
If Mo wasn’t worried about compensating for his failures in the game before . . . if J.J. wasn’t over-thinking scouting reports . . . if Andy knew whether LeBron wanted him to take that 15-footer (psst, he doesn’t) . . . if West knew he should take the initiative to take the ball to the basket (and do something totally awesome) . . . if Jamario knew we were appreciative of his hustle . . .
Maybe the talent would be uncorked, and pour.
The Cavs need to play better. Win or lose. And personally, I think they need to go back to having fun. Because this serious stuff just isn’t them right now.
[By the way, I'm curious about the kidnapped or not-kidnapped state of Nate Robinson's joy right now. He's on a good team in the playoffs . . . finally . . . but in two games he's only played a total of 40 seconds. That's less than the 1:14 that Daniel Gibson has received. Shoot, Boobie, Shoot!]
As much as I was dying to figure out the identity of the mysterious hold the Chicago Bulls had on the Cleveland Cavaliers, it’s for the best that this series is over now. Even if it’s before we had an opportunity for a “Scooby-Doo”-style reveal.
It was almost as if Chicago had the ability to put some sort of mystical spell on the Cavaliers, which would hypnotize them for roughly eight- to nine-minute periods (of gametime) . . . and only LeBron James had the strength to push through it.
Despite being the 8 seed, Chicago probably ended up being the strongest team in the bottom half of the Eastern Conference bracket. And maybe that shouldn’t be all that surprising . . . with Miami being a team without a supporting cast, Charlotte being a team without a superstar, and Milwaukee being a team without a Bogut.
But on paper, at least to me, it still seems like the Cavs have advantages in almost every conceivable category over the Bulls . . . including all match-ups, with the obvious exception of Derrick Rose Vs. Mo Williams, or even Rose Vs. the Cleveland defense as a whole.
And yet, it felt like this was the Boston Celtics series . . . where, at least as I see it playing out, it doesn’t matter how dominant you are at certain points in the game . . . any letdown will make it a game. And any time it’s a game, you do have a good chance of losing.
But Chicago? Even in a worst case scenario that seemed unlikely.
You’d have to get up pretty early in the morning to stymie the Cavs in a First Round series this year . . . but, well, that’s exactly what the Bulls did.
It’s effort. It’s drive. It’s the present. It’s staring “the end of the line” in the face, and mentally willing it on . . . not with sheer talent, or even execution, but with relentlessness.
The Cavs, on the other hand, fought through one eight-minute trance in the first game, but were otherwise cued up and ready to go. The marquee was crowded; Mo, Anderson Varejao, Antawn Jamison and Shaquillle O’Neal all had LeBron’s back and things were good in Cleveland.
Game Two was sort of a buzzkill, but the Cavs absorbed a strong effort from the Bulls . . . and Cleveland was able to put things together in the fourth quarter. Thanks, unsurprisingly, to a superhuman LeBron effort. The Bulls were outwardly daring him to take jump shots. He did, and he made them.
Game Three was one of those games that we’ve seen often after games like Game Two. It was like a reverse game of Chicken . . . where the Cavs try to figure out how much they can yield to an opponent and still win the game. Or an EKG limbo. “How low can we go?”
The result was one of the least interesting playoff games imaginable with LeBron James on your team. The Cavs didn’t show any consistent signs of life, intensity or teamwork, until the fourth quarter . . . but by then it was too late – and a last ditch effort to eke out a win was thwarted.
That loss should’ve been a wake-up call. But it wasn’t . . . for anyone other than LeBron.
The King had a monster game. He finished with a wicked triple-double: 37 points (on 11-of-17 shooting, including 6-of-9 from beyond the arc, plus 9-of-10 from the stripe) plus 12 rebounds and 11 assists. He also had two steals and a block. It was amazing.
Antawn said he observed a “scary” LeBron James before that game . . . and added, “I haven’t seen [LeBron] in this mind-set since I’ve been here.” He didn’t say if anyone else had noticeable, notable mind-set changes. But I’d like to think that someone did.
Antawn had 24 points (on 9-of-16 shooting) and Mo had 19 points (on 6-of-10), but the Cavs were never able to get much going, consistently, as a team. It was just an otherworldly performance by LeBron, who seemed to be directing the entire game. Fortunately, some teammates stepped up and hit shots . . . and it turned out to be a solid win. Totally awe-ful . . . definitely not dull, or exciting.
Everything could be made up in Game Five, a close-out game at the Q. And it was!
Look, I tend to fall on the optimistic, glass half-full side of the Cuyahoga. But the playoffs bring out some more real realities, and sweat from my palms.
There are too many possessions where the Cavs are playing a mid-December offense. There are too many possessions where the Cavs are playing a mid-March defense. There are too many possessions where the Cavs feel like they have all the possessions in the world to put away the Chicago Bulls . . . and opt to put it off until a future one.
After the lackluster effort throughout the past few games, I spent Game Five thinking about effort. In the first quarter, it was there. In the second quarter, it was there. In the fourth quarter, it was there. In the third quarter, it was still in the locker room, watching highlights from the second quarter.
That doesn’t necessarily mean the Cavs played well in those quarters (although they did for most of them). There was some pretty weak, unpolished-looking defense and offense mixed in there . . . but the effort and intensity were there, and at this point, that is what I’m asking for.
If we make it to an Orlando series in the Eastern Conference Finals, we can worry about finding perfection then. For now, I just want to see playoff intensity . . . because it’s exciting that way. And we have LeBron and a stacked stable of star role players, which should make it even more exciting.
And LeBron’s accomplices were back in action on Tuesday night. Antawn had 25 points (on 8-of-14 shooting) and five rebounds. Shaq had 14 points (on 7-of-9 shooting), eight rebounds, three assists, and knocked the Bulls’ bigs out of the game, literally, by drawing all kinds of fouls.
Delonte West covered up Mo’s off-night, with 16 points (on 6-of-11 shooting), two rebounds and four assists. He also made some huge hustle-plays, including a few which led directly to fast-break points.
Jamario had seven points (including a 3 and an alley-oop) in 16 minutes . . . and Varejao had five points and seven rebounds in 27 minutes. He also brought his toughness back.
The Cavs only won by two points, 96-94 . . . but overall, it was a more comforting win than Game Four on Sunday. (With all due respect to the more-than-satisfying efforts of LeBron on that night.)
So Cleveland dropped Chicago four-games-to-one, despite never really being able to zero in on them enough to really clamp them down. It feels a little unfinished in that way; the Cavs weren’t able to learn anything, or improve themselves . . . on their attack or on their defense.
It’ll be interesting to see what, if anything, from the Chicago series carries over to the Boston Celtics series, which will begin this Saturday in Cleveland. The Celtics are a lot different than the Bulls . . . a lot older, and a lot more experienced . . . so Mike Brown will have to tweak his rotations.
Hopefully, there will be no looking back, effort-wise.
As for the other mysterious entity that kept Chicago in the thick of things with Cleveland . . . you can point to Chicago’s rebounding, or their lack of turnovers, or their playmaking abilities . . . but I have a hunch that if the culprit was unveiled, it might have been the ghost of B.J. Armstrong.
And he might have gotten away with it if it weren’t for the Cavs resurgent effort.
This is the debut of a new feature on The Wine and Gold Rush . . . called “The 10 Count.”
Basically, it’s a rundown of 10 random, and possibly pointless observations from the most recent game. Simple. Sounds only mildly intriguing, I know, but I promise I’ll try to make it fun.
By the way, the boxing reference is pretty meaningless. To be honest, I didn’t have the creativity to come up with a cool Wine and / or Gold Rush allusion . . . or a workable basketball reference that hasn’t already been used by at least 18 blogs.
If you can think of one, shoot me a line . . . and I’ll repay you with digital thanks.
OK, let’s get on with this thing:
Cleveland 102 – Chicago 92. [Cavs up 2-0, First Round]
#1.) Yeah, he’s wearing a multi-colored mouthpiece . . . although buckteeth would be sort of fitting for him.
#2.) Jamario Moon became the first honoree from the school of Intrigue Over Who Will Break Up Mike Brown’s Playoff Rotation. He received 19.9 minutes . . . up from the 7.2 he had in Game 1. He, along with Delonte West (27.3 total minutes), played the final 16 minutes of the game.
Most of those minutes came from Shaquille O’Neal. He left the game just 4:30 into the third quarter with foul trouble, and never returned. Anthony Parker’s minutes were also down from Game One. Jamario replaced AP with four minutes to go in the third, and AP never re-entered the game.
#3.) Jamario played well. He was part of the late-game defensive unit that was finally able to gain some traction against the Bulls . . . and offensively, he hit four of his five shots (all 3s) for 12 points. Nine of those points came in the fourth quarter.
He also had three rebounds and two blocks (including an uproarious one on Joakim Noah that was deadened six seconds later when Luol Deng blocked a Mo Williams shot). Moon led the team with a plus/minus of +14.
#4.) J.J. Hickson only got 9.5 seconds of playing time; Daniel Gibson received 0.0 seconds. In the middle of the third quarter, J.J. and Boobie were the two Cavaliers featured in an “NBA Cares” spot. It took place at the Cleveland Clinic, and the thought crossed my mind that it could be filming in REAL TIME.
#5.) Delonte West should look for his shot more. Not on corner 3s or on bail-out jumpers . . . but on the drive. He looked great on a couple of clever moves to the basket early in the fourth quarter. It’s nice that he operates as a facilitator first, but there are definitely times when he could be more aggressive.
Delonte finished with seven points (on 3-of-7 shooting) with five assists.
#6.) This was another crazy game by LeBron James. He finished with 40 points on just 23 shots. He was an incredible 16-for-23 from the field, 2-for-4 from beyond the arc, and 6-for-6 from the stripe.
He also had eight rebounds, eight assists, two dynamic blocks and a steal.
#7.) The turning point was probably the 3-pointer that LeBron hit in front of the Chicago bench (followed by a wink to the Bulls) with 4:20 left in the fourth quarter. That kicked off a run of 10 straight points (on four field goals) from LeBron . . . in less than three minutes. During that time, the Cavs increased their lead from three to nine.
#8.) After the game, LeBron said:
“[The Bulls] were talking the whole game . . . just, every time I caught it over there, just daring me to shoot the ball. Telling me I couldn’t shoot or you can’t make jump shots, so take the shot. So, um, that’s what I did.
“They asked me to shoot a jumper, and I did that . . . over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over again.”
That’s transcribed exactly. And oddly enough, LeBron called out every single one of his nine jumpers. He says he hit one, and then went through eight “overs.” Is this just a coincidence? You’d think so. But with LeBron James . . . who knows?
#9.) In the first quarter, TNT’s Marv Albert exclaimed “Anthony Parker is firing from all angles.” Now, that isn’t something that you normally dream about, necessarily . . . but he was on early. Then, he never took another shot the rest of the game. He finished with nine points (on 3-of-5 shooting; all 3s).
Not that it’s a bad thing . . . I don’t think . . . but it’s interesting how the Cavs’ offense often seems to operate in bunches. There’s the stretch where they’re pickin’-n’-poppin’ with Z, there’s the stretch where LeBron wants isolation, there’s the stretch where we work the ball inside-out, there’s the stretch where we force the ball to work inside-out, there’s the stretch where AP gets a touch, etc.
#10.) The Cavs shot the ball 12.2% better from the field than the Bulls in this game, 56.3% to 44.1%. So what gives?
Here are a few reasons why this game was close: Weak-sauce Cavs defense (or “no Cavs defense,” as I initially typed), the Bulls’ offensive rebounding edge (13-to-5), the Bulls’ second-chance points, the Bulls only turned the ball over four times (to 11 times by the Cavs), and Joakim Noah’s career performance to prove to the feisty Cleveland crowd that he does not suck. At least, at basketball.
In Game One of the Cleveland Cavaliers’ first-round playoff series with the Chicago Bulls, the Cavs implemented their “playoff rotation,” which basically consisted of seven players . . . with two others receiving less than ten minutes.
In previous playoff runs, the rotation-shrinking was essentially a no-brainer. It was just up to Mike Brown to divvy up the minutes . . . based on tandems he wanted to utilize and match-ups he wanted to exploit.
But now that the Cavs have one of the deepest teams in the NBA . . . if not the deepest . . . Brown also must decide who to play, in addition to the minutes and the five-man units.
It’ll be a mildly interesting storyline to follow throughout the series. For example, in Game One, Brown was using a pretty short rotation, with all the starters playing big minutes.
There were two likely reasons for this: With Shaquille O’Neal’s injury and all the time off the other starters were getting in the last two weeks, Brown wanted to give his main guys an opportunity to reconnect and work out any wrinkles. Also, Brown was not taking any chances. He was not about to let the Bulls come in to The Q and steal a game while the Cavs were still feeling things out.
Here’s how the minutes worked out, along with season averages for comparison.
- LeBron James: 40 minutes . . . 39.0
- Mo Williams: 39 minutes . . . 34.2
- Antawn Jamison: 33 minutes . . . 32.4
- Anderson Varejao: 32 minutes . . . 28.5
- Anthony Parker: 31 minutes . . . 28.3
- Shaquille O’Neal: 25 minutes . . . 23.4
- Delonte West: 24 minutes . . . 25.0
- Zydrunas Ilgauskas: 9 minutes . . . 20.9
- Jamario Moon: 7 minutes . . . 17.2
- J.J. Hickson: 1 minute . . . 20.9
- Daniel Gibson: 1 minute . . . 19.1
- Jawad Williams: 1 minute . . . 13.7
While you don’t necessarily love to play your starters big minutes in the first round of the playoffs unless you have to . . . it’s interesting to note that only Mo and (to a lesser extent) Andy and AP played significantly more than they averaged throughout the regular season.
The high regular season averages (including Leon Powe at 11.8 minutes) were inflated by all the injuries that the Cavs suffered to their core rotation players . . . along with Mike Brown’s tendency to give minutes (and DNP-CDs) in bunches.
And now, here are a few notes from the lineups in Game One:
#1.) The most productive time in the game came in the first 9:30 minutes of the game, when the Cavaliers were +14 over the Bulls. All the starters were in that whole time, with the exception of Andy subbing-in for Shaq 7:30 in.
Here’s how that breaks down: The Cavs’ starters were +8 with Shaq and then went +6 with Andy.
That rotation was less successful after halftime, when the Cavs were +3 with all the starters . . . and -4 after Andy came in for Shaq. (That happened in the heart of the Cavs’ seven-minute dead zone.)
#2.) LeBron rested for 2:55 in the second quarter and 4:12 at the top of the fourth.
#3.) Individually, the Cavs bench players had a few nice moments in the game . . . but Chicago was making up ground when they were in. The Cavs were even with the Bulls when Z was in the game, -4 when Moon was in, and -1 with Delonte on the floor.
Andy had the only positive number. He was +3.
Every series will be different, and every game will be a little different . . . but the lukewarm performance from the bench collectively could provide an opening for someone else to get some minutes. (J.J., Boobie or Powe . . . depending on what they need.)
Naturally, there could also be more minutes for those players . . . although more garbage-y . . . if the current subs rebound (figuratively) in Game Two, and the Cavs are able to maintain bigger leads.
#4.) In Game One, Z and Jamario basically split near-five-minute openings at the beginning of the second and fourth quarters, while LeBron was resting. Z took the second quarter, and Moon took the fourth.
#5.) Even though it seems like the Cavs relied a lot on their starters . . . at least, compared to what we’re used to . . . the Bulls were even tighter. Like the Cavs, they essentially used a seven-man rotation, but their bench only played 48 total minutes, compared to the 75 minutes the Cavs’ bench played.
Also, the Bulls did not make a substitution during the third quarter . . . the one that included their 12-0 run while the Cavs’ offense fell off track. Their starters also played the first 2:30 minutes in the fourth, meaning that Vinny Del Negro rode his starters for 14-and-a-half minutes to start the second half.
Those are just a few things to keep in mind if you’re interested in seeing how the Cavs’ rotations evolve throughout the series and the playoffs.