Shaq: 'We'll See What We're Made Of'
BOSTON -- The Cleveland Cavaliers offered no guarantees, but they did not lack confidence as they looked ahead to Game 6 of their Eastern Conference playoff series against Boston Thursday night. Being down 3-2 isn't good, they said, but it also is not the end of life as they know it. The Cavs, including two-time MVP LeBron James, acknowledged a bad Game 5 -- then pointed ahead, which is pretty much all they can do as they face a way-earlier-than-expected playoff ouster.
"When you have set the bar high for yourself and you don't do that every single night, then you're going to have a bad one,"James said of a 15-point, uninterested performance Tuesday night. "They can talk about you and say the elbow or he wasn't this or he wasn't that. I'm OK with accepting it, but I don't get involved in it and I've got to understand that [Game 6] is a huge game."
"We have to get it done," Shaquille O'Neal said. "Everyone knows what's at stake and we'll see what we're made of."
James and O'Neal met the media after this most recent loss, unlike after the Cavs lost Game 4 in Boston. Their silence then and the team's body language Tuesday night spurred talk of dissension and a team splintering over playing time, substitutions and struggles. They dismissed it.
"When you lose ballgames you have questions, of course," James said. "You see things that you can do better. But as far as being divided, I don't think so."
"You want to go in there and take a shower with us?" O'Neal quipped.
James even chuckled when the notion was brought up that the worst loss in Cavaliers postseason history would affect his legacy.
"You guys are crazy," he said, more in amazement than anger. "I'm 25 years old and you're talking about a reputation and legacy. I've got more years and a lot more time to play basketball.
"Nobody can ever question what I do individually or what I've done in this short career. If anyone has the right to question how I play on the court and what I do on the court, I don't understand that."
O'Neal called criticism of coach Mike Brown "unfair," and said it's the job of everyone else on the team to make Brown and James look good. James wasn't touching the coach issue.
"I'm not going to get involved in that, man," he said. "That's for you guys to write. You guys are at the point right now where you are trying to divide [us] as far as the coaching staff and the players. But I'm not going to get involved in that. We can control what we can ... control, and right now the most important thing is to go to Boston and win Game 6."
James added he was "not disappointed at all" in how he played in the 32-point loss.
"I'm never disappointed," he said.
Fair amount of bravado there. James always believes he has done something to contribute, but he's also not stupid.
"I don't think," Brown said, "he has any confusion about him having a tough night."
When it came to Xs and Os, Brown said the Cavs need to improve in two areas: Giving up fast-break and second-chance points. The last two games -- both Cleveland losses -- the Cavs were outscored 70-24 in those two areas. Celtics coach Doc Rivers has made no secret his team plays its best when it defends well and runs, and it's working thanks to Cleveland's poor shooting and Rajon Rondo's aggressive play.
O'Neal stressed that the Cavs have to return to their identity, which is as a hard-nosed, tough defensive team. Boston scored 100 points the final three quarters Tuesday, and has averaged 101.8 points per game -- too many for a team that prides itself on its defense.
"Man up, buckle up and just play," O'Neal said.
The defensive problems have not obscured the Cavs' offensive troubles. There have been some ugly possessions, brought on by indecisiveness and Boston's defense, which has kept James from penetrating. Instead of running different plays -- trying to get James the ball on the low block or trying to run James off screens -- the offense has stagnated. Brown has tried different players and combinations, the last game even pulling guard Daniel GIbson out of mothballs. It's very unusual for him; he's a coach who likes clearly defined roles and expectations, especially in the playoffs.
"I'm going to keep trying to search and tweak and all that stuff until I find combinations that I feel good about," Brown said.
To hear the Cavs speak it almost would have seemed the last game would have no affect on the next. Boston was able to forget its bad loss by winning Game 4 after losing Game 3 by 29. Now it's the Cavs' turn to try. James showed little anger or emotion and shrugged off a suggestion he should change his ways.
"It's not who I am," he said. "It's never been who I am. You may look at me right now and say you don't see anger. I just don't show it."
James, too, has constantly dismissed talk that his strained and bruised right elbow is bothering him -- though he did admit it was something he would "take care of" in the offseason. No matter, at this point, even if it is bothering him, he has to dismiss it. Boston is playing to advance; the elbow cannot be an issue.
"We all as a unit just have to step up right now," O'Neal said. "And we will."