J.O is the newest writer here at NBAMate. His mantra is “If it’s not NBA, it’s not BASKETBALL”. The owner of over 200 NBA ‘video-taped’ games, J.O. lives n breathes NBA on a daily basis, reads it, watches it, writes about it and challenges anybody to a game of NBA 2K10. The guy really does need a life…
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We are all collectively still in shock. Back to back 60-win seasons and MVP’s for the game’s premier player, and all the momentum going into the postseason. All unravelled in six chippy games by a veteran, championship Boston Celtics outfit that continues to set the defensive standard at one end, whilst burying teams with a frenetic, unselfish camaraderie at the other. I detest the Celtics, yet I am constantly in awe of them because they never quit and always play in unison. They are a team full of tough, no-nonsense players and you can’t help but respect that. In fact, I may as well stay in tune with this piece in the first person since this whole season has practically predicated on the efforts of one player and one team. LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Just where do you lay blame? Every NBA website and telecast that will dissect the demise of the Cavaliers from here on this year (and I’m tipping most) will contain LeBron’s name in just about every analysis given. It’s what happens when you’re nicknamed The King, take family photos during pre-game introductions, blow powder into the masses, dominate every Tom, Dick and Harry during the regular season and set ridiculous standards on the stats sheet. You make your bed, you sleep in it. Tough for James to do that in the coming weeks.
Watching Cleveland this year, I was never convinced. Not when they started getting on 10 game winning streaks, not when they smashed the LA Lakers, Orlando Magic, Phoenix Suns and those same Celtics. Funny how all four will contest the conference finals.
I was actually disgusted in some of the images I “witnessed”. One game in particular last December against the Suns in Cleveland, James stole an inbounds pass and nailed a three at buzzer on quarter time. He then leapt into the arms of his bench, and they celebrated like it they had just snagged the championship. My immediate reaction was that of, “Save that bullshit for June”. This was the first quarter mind you. Now, I’m no a qualified expert. I certainly don’t have the past player credentials like those jocks on TNT and I don’t have the basketball technical doctorate to be able to break down the game X by O like a Charley Rosen. But I just knew this Cavaliers system was flawed and the regular season tends to mask a lot of deficiencies. I’m sure true Cleveland fans felt the same.
I watched in shock today as Boston wrapped up a 4-2 series win against them. How could a Cleveland team, so much more settled (many of us thought) on paper, be dismantled, and thoroughly smashed by a Boston team that seemed past its use-by-date? I did use those words to that effect in a previous post. I happily wear egg on my face.
Where James ends up in a couple months time is irrelevant at this point. Cleveland’s owner Dan Gilbert and general manager Danny Ferry have to be feeling suicidal by now. They’ve splurged so much cash on the personnel to surround LeBron, even exceeding the luxury tax just to do so. And they’ll pay the price dearly now, whether James leaves or not.
It’s pretty obvious LeBron will cop most of the criticism for the Cavs caving in. Rightly so, he is their leader and best player. Game Five was no excuse, his body language, shot selection and timing on defense were horrendous. But as a LeBron fan (and not because I want him to come to my beloved Knicks) I’ll defend his throne this one time. Ok, his postgame comments after the game were deplorable. But seriously, two things: One, where were his teammates? And two, the coaching? Both could be one and the same.
The problem with Mike Brown was his whole system on offense predicated on what LeBron did at all times, from putting the ball in his hands, to running slow down, power offenses. I was just never a fan of that. It doesn’t encompass the team one bit, even if James was surrounded by the likes of Mo Williams, Shaquille O’Neal, Antawn Jamison and Delonte West. One guy cannot, and should not, be relied upon to battery the offense time and time again. LeBron top of the key- penetrate, if double teamed then dish, LeBron posting on the block- one on one or dish. LeBron free-lancing and everyone stand on the perimeter and wait to be delivered the ball. I’m not basing this alone on this series, but the whole season and last year, and believe me we’ve all seen a plethora of Cavs games on TV or online.
LeBron can only do so much, he’s human, he can take over games, but he can’t do it all the time, nor could anyone whilst being in five places at once. Orlando proved that last year, and Boston vindicated that again this year. The blame must fall squarely on head coach Mike Brown, and I’ll be very surprised if his head doesn’t end up on the chopping block. For a guy that started his career off in the video room analyzing tape, for a guy that toiled on the San Antonio Spurs coaching staff for several years, this is a major blight on his record. You’d think after all the video sessions, he would have seen this coming. Was five guys collapsing on LeBron not enough warning? His system was too LeBron-centric and it was exploited, again, ruthlessly by a past champion.
“The regular season is a lot different than the postseason,” (No shit Mike). “We knew that they (Boston) were going to be a different team. We hoped that we were. Boston stepped up, and we didn’t.” Brown said to reporters postgame. Well guess what Mike? You’ve had two seasons to chalk up a Plan B, C and D to thwart that. He didn’t and now LeBron might walk out of town for good. Case in point, the four teams now left in the playoff race, the Celtics, Magic, Lakers and Suns all boast superstar players, but their coaches diversify their offenses so that you don’t get teams gravitating on stopping one guy. LA has the triangle (with a little bit of Kobe), Orlando has Dwight an assortment of shooters and one-on-one talent to mix it up, Phoenix has Nash, Stoudamire and a band of talent that plays every game with a sense of urgency, while Boston has unearthed a superb point guard to jumpstart the All-Star Big Three. Point being, they are three, perhaps four-dimensional if there is such a description. Cleveland though, hoped an astronomical performance from its King would be enough to take it all the way. Instead, most of us fans outside of Cleveland knew what the Cavs have been trying to prevent all along – their game plan is a sham and LeBron still needs help.
James’s teammates can also hang there heads in shame. I’ll give concessions to Shaquille O’Neal since at age 37, he wasn’t exactly going to magically time warp back to his Superman/Diesel efforts of yesteryear, and to a lesser extent Zydrunas Ilgauskas. Sideshow Varejao also did his thing harassing the Celtic bigs and got his hands dirty aplenty, but he was never going to decide a game by his lonesome.
Not so for the rest.
Don’t let Mo Williams’ 22 points in game six fool you, not only did he choke it up in the second half, but he’s been vehemently disappearing in all of Cleveland’s crunch games dating back to the Orlando series in ‘09. And this guy was supposedly James’ sidekick when he was signed. Antawn Jamison, who was brought in at the trade deadline to space the floor and to provide another outside threat for LeBron, had only five points in the closer while going 3-16 from behind the arc in the series. Dismal for an experienced player and again ‘supposedly’ the final piece of Cavs puzzle. KG totally smashed him to bits. Off the bench Delonte West, aside from his 14 points in game 3, he couldn’t even hit double figures for the other five contests and coughed it up at an alarming rate in the closer. I really rated West – past tense. Meanwhile, livewire reserves JJ Hickson, Jamario Moon and Daniel Gibson, so instrumental in Cleveland’s regular season surge, were all buried on the bench and forgotten in Brown’s rotation. We know Boston is a great defensive team, but Cleveland were no slouches either in that department, or at least we were led to believe. It seemed the whole series the Celtics got what they wanted, dictated the tempo and had the Cavs scrambling at every possession.
Credit to Boston though, Rajon Rondo is a genuine superstar with the big three providing the icing on the cake when it mattered most. Paul Pierce, quelled for most of the series, hit some big shots down the stretch in the closer. Thus proving you can’t keep a good man down. The Celtics are a real chance now to go all the way, but red-hot Orlando in the Conference Finals will present a heftier proposition.
I feel sorry for Cleveland, but then again I don’t. Like the Dallas Mavericks, they’ve had many chances to right this ship. But they ultimately played like a team that felt content with a minor championship. Pathetic. Somewhere in America (and clearly not Ohio) Joakhim Noah is laughing his socks off.