I did some research the last few days in the hopes of calming my nerves during the Celtics-Cavaliers series, now tied at 2-2 going into game five at the Q. What is not calming me is seeing how my second favorite team, the Phoenix Suns, are running through teams because they trust their bench and have established a clear identity on what they can do. Can they beat the Lakers? Eh, maybe, maybe not. There’s not really that much pressure. When I watch the Suns play, I get the feeling that everyone on that team is having a hell of a good time. The Cavaliers were like that, last year, in those first two rounds when the wind was at their backs.
Okay…that didn’t help.
Here’s what did…slightly. Again, if you are a Cleveland fan, there is no therapy for us. There is only reality, and a highlight reel that twirls in your head of The Drive, Byner’s fumble, Jordan’s Shot, Parts 1 and 2, Craig Counsel’s sacrifice fly, or Edgar Renteria’s single. But I’ve decided to fight against my natural state. Yes, I grew up in Ohio, but I refuse to think like a victim!
Ever since the NBA Playoffs expanded to 7 games in the 1st round in 2003, these are the playoff records of each NBA champion.
2003- 16-8 (San Antonio)
2004- 16-7 (Detroit)
2005- 16-7 (San Antonio)
2006- 16-7 (Miami)
2007- 16-4 (San Antonio…against Cleveland)
2008- 16-10 (Boston)
2009- 16-7 (Los Angeles)
Not exactly unblemished, right? You can actually go back through each year and see some interesting things. For example, in 2003, New Jersey swept through the Conference Semi-Finals and the Conference Finals…only to lose to San Antonio in 6.
With the exception of the 2007 Finals (pulls at collar…gulp), you can see that teams lose, usually, at least 7 games before winning the championship. This made me feel better for one reason. Struggle.
The 2009 Cavaliers played the first two rounds with a run and gun, no pressure style that, in my opinion, hurt them in the long run when it came to close games against the Magic. Struggle brings about Experience, and the 2010 Cavaliers are indeed struggling right now. But the harder this series is, the better off the Cavaliers will be against the Magic.
Don’t listen to the experts who say, “the Magic are looking like the class of the East”. No…that’s not true, they just got our 2009 schedule the first two rounds. They played a Bobcats team who couldn’t score…(cough cough old, washed up 2009 Pistons cough cough), and now they have the spineless Atlanta Hawks, who look like they’re going to wet the bed every time they enter a pressure 4th quarter. Can’t we remember a year ago? We destroyed the Hawks last year as well. Sure, the Magic have de-double-dawg destroyed them this year, but that’s because Joe Johnson has stopped believing in his team, and the Hawks have stopped believing in Mike Woodson.
For further proof that this epic 2nd round struggle is a good thing, here are two more recent examples from last year. The Los Angeles Lakers went 7 games with a fundamentally tough, well-coached, motivated Houston Rockets team. In retrospect, the Rockets sharpened the Lakers, and their confidence only grew against the Nuggets the next round. The other example? Boston and Orlando…last year. That series went 7 games. It was rough, and it damn near went Boston’s way. But Orlando learned how to bounce back when down…something they did effortlessly against the 09 Cavaliers in the first halves of games 1 and 2.
There has been a lot of criticism connected to the Cavaliers lacking intensity and focus for the full forty-eight minutes. It’s justified…however, it has been the identity of the team the entire year. They only answer to direct, in-your-face challenges, much like the 2004 Pistons were known for. If there’s one thing that’s impressed me about this team, it’s their ability to fight themselves out of a corner. I’m not sure how this identity evolved. After all, the 09 Cavaliers played with a lot more looseness and carefree energy than this team. Perhaps the only way Lebron can get motivated anymore is when everyone starts to doubt him.
Game 4 was a mystery. Was it lack of aggression? No. Was it Boston baiting Lebron into taking jump shots, who then proceeded to drive into the heart of the lane and pass off to teammates, who were waiting for him to take over? Maybe more of that. It was a noble, passive-aggressive game for Lebron. I think, deep down, he believes he left his teammates behind in the 09 playoffs. By that I mean he feels like they need to feel even more involved in the offense.
As Brian Windhorst mentioned, the team still has chemistry issues. Mo Williams, who gets criticized far too much, is stuck between a rock and a hard place. To start with, he’s wondering if Lebron is going to be a point guard one play, and on the other, he knows he needs to get Jamison involved when he does have the ball. Talk about an identity crisis. What is Mo Williams to this team? Just tell him what he’ll be, and things will go a whole lot better.
I’m getting back into panic mode. All I wish is that Lebron decide his role, because this whole ‘sometimes I play point, sometimes not’ is confusing the role players.
Not that I have any say in the matter, but I have to feel this situation would be just fine and dandy:
(Lebron brings the ball up, calls the play. Mo runs off screens set by Parker and Shaq. Jamison does a pick and roll with Lebron. Jamison goes to the basket, and takes a player with him. If Jamison’s not available, you’ve got Mo coming off a large Shaq screen. If he isn’t open, you’ve got Shaq posting up, with Parker perched in the corner. Options, options, options.)
The Cavaliers do this…a lot. But there are times when I see Mo close to the top of the key, waiting on what he’s supposed to do. The above situation is unstoppable with Lebron at the point. Tell Mo he is a shooting guard, and will always be a shooting guard, and you’ll see improvement in his shooting.
God I’m nervous about Game 5…