Questions for Suddenly Struggling Cavs
In the last 10 years, only once has a top seed lost at home by a larger margin.
Cleveland's 104-86 defeat ties the second worst home loss for a top seed, matching Indiana's 83-65 loss to Detroit in 2004. Those were topped only by San Antonio's 113-91 loss to Dallas in 2006.
This would make the Cavs' bleak effort against Boston rather epic in scale. It was a loss that defies logic because a team playing for a title played flat-out poor. Boston played well, but the way Cleveland played left its fan base shaken and its coach lambasting his team. Tuesday he had cooled off -- but he also had gotten his message across to his players.
"I think we can play better," Mike Brown said. "I know we can play better. And I know I can help them more."
That still leaves questions unanswered.
Among them ...
• What is going on with LeBron James?
The visual evidence would suggest that James is playing through a lot more discomfort than he and the Cavs have admitted. James grimaces and winces during games, and he grabs his elbow (which the team said has a strain and a bone bruise). James says he won't use it as an excuse, but prior to Game 2 he took no jump shots while warming up, and during the first two games he's taken only three in the first half. Brown said he doesn't see James grab his elbow, and that nobody has told him the elbow is bothering James.
"Our doctors haven't said anything to me, our trainers haven't said anything to me, and LeBron hasn't said anything to me about it bothering him," Brown said. "So I don't know what to say about it."
Sounds odd, but Brown said he trusts the team's doctors and trainers, and he trusts James. "At any time, if anybody's hurting, I'm in the loop if a guy can't play or he needs to be limited or he needs to be taken out," Brown said.
James had stretches where he has looked like himself, but others when he seems tentative. The team points to his 29.5 points in the two games, and to his 15 free throws in Game 2. But there have been times when James has not been close to his usual aggressive self.
The Cavs say there is no structural damage, but James is scheduled for his third MRI this week. Brown said James had one near the end of the regular season, and one during the playoffs. This week's was scheduled as a follow-up.
The Cavs did not practice Tuesday, but Brown had the team come in to watch film and hear his critiques. After, a number of Cavs were on the court. When his teammates are on the court, James usually is too. Tuesday he was not present when the media was inside the practice court.
James said he has to adjust to the situation from game to game, so there may be no telling how he will be in each game. Clearly, though, the Cavs will not be the team they were the past two regular seasons with the league's MVP limited in any way. At a minimum, he has to play through discomfort. At worst, it's worse than anyone is letting on.
• Why did James and Brown have such different attitudes after the game?
Brown's blood was boiling. James said he would not panic because it was just one game and there was a long series ahead. James said Brown said little to the team. Tuesday, Brown said James was right. He admitted he said little on Monday because he didn't want to talk out of anger and before he had studied the film to explain what went wrong.
• What can the Cavs do about Rajon Rondo?
The Celtics have a 1-1 tie thanks to the play of Rondo, whose outstanding effort included an open-court, Hakeem Olajuwon fake and spin move that had the Cavs looking silly. In two games, Rondo is averaging 20 points and 15.5 assists. Williams can't guard him, Anthony Parker might, James has. Brown, a defensive coach, has to find a way to slow the Celtics point guard.
• What can the Cavs do with Kevin Garnett?
In a matchup of "fours," Garnett is averaging 18 and 10. Garnett is too strong on the block for Jamison, and the Celtics are exploiting the matchup. The Cavs could go with Anderson Varejao at the four, but that takes away Jamison's scoring. Also, Varejao is day-to-day with back spasms. Jamison could move to the three, but that would move James to the two, which would put him on either Rondo or Ray Allen.
Through two games, this chess-game matchup is going Boston's way.
• What is going on with Mo Williams?
Brown answered a question about Williams honestly Monday night by saying Williams has to step up and the Cavs won't win the series with him shooting 1 for 9 and playing the way he did. "I was asked a question," Brown said. "I told the truth. Not only does he have to play better, I have to do better and the rest of the team has to do better on both ends of the floor. It's as simple as that."
Williams was asked about the comments and said: "Yeah, that's true." Tuesday, Brown pointed out that Williams won Game 1 for the Cavs.
Williams carries the burden of last season's playoffs with him this year. In the 2008-09 regular season, Williams shot 46.7 percent. In the playoffs he shot 40.5 percent, and got worse every series -- from 41 to 39.1 to 37.1 percent in the Eastern Conference finals.
This year, he was so-so against Chicago (41 percent) and followed a good game against Boston with a clunker. Williams said Boston gave him no space and that none of his shots felt comfortable in Game 2. James said the Cavs have to find a way to get him better shots. Until Williams comes through, the playoff stats will hover over him.
"It's not eating at me at all," Williams said. "It was one game."
• Why was Celtics GM Danny Ainge under the basket throwing a towel in the air while J.J. Hickson was shooting a free throw in the third period?
The Cavs wondered that too.
"It was interesting," Brown said of Ainge's action when his team was way ahead. "It was interesting to see that happen during the course of a game, from Danny Ainge."
Brown added: "As long as it's within the rules."
• What about Shaquille O'Neal?
He's shooting 8 for 22 with all the shots coming from inside six feet. He missed layups, baby hooks and what looked like gimmes in Game 2. The Celtics pulled away in the third period when the Cavs kept pounding the ball inside to O'Neal and he did not convert.
He'll still keep getting the ball.
"We know, he knows, he can shoot better," Brown said. "He hasn't had a ton of opportunity, but we're going to keep going to the big fella because he's going to have to be able to score some points down there to loosen it up for the rest of our guys. We need to establish a post presence against Boston, and he's one of the guys who can do it for us."
• Why have the Cavs started games so poorly?
In both games, the Cavs were behind by double-digits in the second quarter. That has been a trend this season. The thinking was they could turn it on when they had to, and it worked. The Cavs did, after all, have the league's best regular season record.
But the Cavs did not play well in Game 2, and a loss has created questions, and James might not be there to save the day.
"We need," Brown said, "to develop a sense of urgency."
Why would a team playing for a championship need to develop that sense at this point in time?
There is no answer for that question.
• Are the Cavs in trouble or was that just one game and it's down to a five-game series?