It wouldn't be surprising if Cavaliers fans this morning wonder if this yet another tease from a team that plays brilliantly in the regular season. What else would you expect them to think after Monday night's embarrassment at The Q?
The whipping by the Boston Celtics that evened the playoff series at a game apiece angered just about everyone including he normally mild-mannered Mike Brown. The Cleveland coach took a giant step out of character and let his team have it after the Celtics humiliated them in front of the home folks.
Truth is the Cavaliers haven't played good basketball since the start of the postseason and it's about time Brown came down hard on them. They deserved it. The only reason they skipped past the Chicago Bulls in the first round is that the opposition was the Bulls, a team not nearly as talented as Cleveland. The Bulls clearly outhustled the Cavs.
But these are the Boston Celtics, a team with much more talent and just as much hustle. In fact, the Celtics have played so well in the first two games, they should be headed back home with a 2-0 lead. The Cavs, who had better take their game up a notch or three or the offseason will arrive much earlier than expected, have become the antithesis of what we saw in the regular season.
The lack of hustle is alarming. It's almost as though the Cavaliers believe that all they have to do is show up and the game is secure. One would think they would have learned their lesson from a year ago when the Orlando Magic shocked everyone by outplaying and outhustling the Cavs. If it weren't for a magical game-winning shot by LeBron James in game two, a sweep by the Magic was a distinct possibility.
There are a disturbingly large number of Cavaliers at whom the fingers of guilt can be pointed this postseason, players who figured prominently in the Cavs securing home-floor advantage throughout the playoff.
Let's begin with Shaquille O'Neal. Here's a guy, despite his age, who should be dominating in the paint. He said his mission was to help LeBron win his first NBA championship. And yet, he has piled up a truckload of missed opportunities at or near the basket thus far. Are layups that difficult to make?
And then there's Anderson Varejao, the master disturber/pain-in-the-ass forward whose greatest strength is his ability to frustrate the opposition. Where has this guy been? The Celtics seem to be flicking him off as nothing more than an annoyance.
Where art thou, Mo Williams? Sure, you put up 20 in the game-opening victory over the Celtics. But one game does not constitute consistency. You need, as your coach said, to step up and take charge. Just because you're now the third option, that doesn't mean slinking back into your shell.
Delonte West? Time to shoot the rock more.
If the Cavaliers are to advance to the next round, LeBron has to take charge. He has been extremely tentative in the first half of the first two games against Boson. It seems as though he wants to involve his teammates more before opening up.
No. That's not the formula. The Cavaliers have been successful this season mainly because they been a terrific first-quarter team, in large part due to James getting off to quick starts. The Cavaliers need to get back to that mode. And James is the only player who can get them to that level.
That is, of course, if he is healthy enough. It is possible James is pacing himself with that tender elbow and ratchets up his game only when necessary. Only problem there is the Celtics have made it difficult by surpassing the Cavaliers' intensity with some inspiring play of their own.
When Ray Allen starts hitting from outside and when Rasheed Wallace recreates his best days with the Detroit Pistons and when Rajon Rondo begins imitating Bob Cousy, the Cavs are in big trouble. Two of those three must be shut down in order to regain home-floor advantage.
In the past, the Cavs have shut down Allen, and Wallace can't be expected to keep this up. It'll be interesting to see what Brown has in store for the Celtics in Boson. He's too good a defensive coach to keep the status quo because it clearly is not working.
The Celtics have been vulnerable at home this season and the Cavs have already played them tough up there on two occasions. They'll need at least one more. In order to do so, however, they must recapture the drive and desire that propelled them to the top of the league.
If not . . .