Do Cavs Know What to Expect From LeBron in Game 6?
When asked about his team's strategies in this Eastern Conference semifinal series against the Boston Celtics, James said: "The coaching staff, they put us in position to win games. As players we have to go out and try to execute that. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn't. We can't question the effort that we have." He added that the coaches give the team the game plan, and the players carry it out. So it's just not working.
Coach Mike Brown, though, points to specific areas where the Cavs have failed: Giving up fast-break and second-chance points. The past two games, he said, the Cavs have been outscored, 70-24, in those areas.
Shaquille O'Neal, who joined the Cavs (via trade) for that last shot at a ring, points to another key factor: Defense. The Cavs are giving up 101.8 points per game, and they gave up 100 points the final three quarters of Game 5.
The three elements of the game could be put under one umbrella: Hustle and work. Hard work prevents the other team from getting offensive rebounds. Hustle (and better shooting) keeps them from getting on the break. Work and hustle are the elements that go into defense.
So, the problems are not so much in the game plan, but in the way the Cavs have executed it. James himself intimated as much when he said he agreed with the system the players have been put in. He also tried to deflect questions about his coach, and any differences of opinion he or anyone on the team may have. But ... the game plan would not include not working on defense. Which means that perhaps the Cavs can and should question their effort and intensity in the last loss. Their owner certainly did, releasing a statement that included a major broadside at his team. (Can anyone blame him given the money he's spent to win, and to keep James in Cleveland?)
Not that every move Mike Brown and the coaches have made has been perfect -- dusting off Daniel Gibson and asking him to guard Rajon Rondo was downright bizarre. The general feeling is that it's not all the systems or approach or substitutions that are the problem but more the way the players have played.
Cleveland is being called a bunch of things, none complimentary. As is James. Front-runners, posers, a team with a false sense of entitlement, a group that wins in the regular season but not in the playoffs when the opponents are tougher.
After that Game 5 debacle, they all apply. In that game, the Cavs' two best players were Shaquille O'Neal and Zydrunas Ilgauskas, both 30-somethings who know this may be their last chance. Mo Williams tried, but he's struggling trying to defend Boston's guards. James was distant and detached, with body language and expressions completely unlike him.
Suddenly, the Cavs find themselves looking at the season's end, and realizing they may have built their team for the last war, a common mistake. The Cavs built this year's team with an eye on Orlando, which eliminated them last season. Now they are facing elimination by the Celtics.
At Thursday's shootaround, there was much laughter and joking and banter among the players. That is the Cavs' style, though it was not James' style prior to Game 3. Then he sat quietly at shootaround. Prior to Game 6 he was shooting, laughing, having fun with his teammates. He's done it before and played well.
The Cavs feed off their leader, and in Game 5 their leader left them famished. Cleveland is a city that has had so many sports disappointments that the slightest problems leave it waiting for the next. Losing Game 4 in Boston seemed to bring those negative feelings to light -- they could almost be felt for two days. Add on the unease within the team about how substitutions went in Game 4, add on the feelings James must be feeling about with free agency coming and no title achieved in his hometown and James might have been carrying a lot. The great players are up to that challenge, though. Larry Bird was; Michael Jordan was; Magic Johnson was, too. James has one (or two) more chances.
But in one home game, James disappeared. The guy who walked off the court after losing to Boston two years ago and who walked off the court last year after losing to Orlando never walked on the court for Game 5 with any air of confidence or interest.
It's a mystery that nobody understands or can explain -- nobody outside the team and (worse) nobody inside the team. James' teammates will stand by him, but clearly what he did in Game 5 affected everyone. And nobody understands why. Meanwhile, Boston, a team with veterans who know how to win, have smelled an opportunity.
The most interesting thing in Thursday night's game, beyond the score and who wins, will be how James approaches it. To see if he plays like he did in Game 3 when he and the Cavs as a team were outstanding, to see if he plays for himself to say "well I tried and did my best," or to see if he plays at all. One game does not erase a career, but one game sure raised a lot of questions.
Normally, folks would be expecting greatness from James heading into Game 6. That's what Cleveland fans hope they'll get. It well could be that he simply had the mother of all bad nights.
The sad reality is that after that last game nobody truly knows what to expect.