Thursday, May 31, 2007

This is hilarious

On a lighthearted note, this is just too good not to pass on. If we hadn't lucked out and drafted LeBron James a few years ago, I would definitely be putting together a "Kill Paxson" montage, hopefully of similar quality. Rest assured that Ricky Davis, Chris Gatling, Kevin Ollie, and DeSagana Diop would be prominently featured. I wonder who would play them . . .

Bill Simmons on the Cavs

Bill Simmons just posted this article on the Cavs-Pistons series. I wonder if he's been reading my blog (especially since I sent him several links to it through the ESPN "Contact Bill" site) since he said, well, a lot of what I've said thus far in this space. Though, he was much funnier, and more concise.

Bill, are you out there? Are you reading? I sure hope so.


Brian Windhorst reports that Larry Hughes is getting shots in his foot so that he can play in tonight's game.

Count me as one who's pretty worried about the impact Hughes could have on the game. No doubt his playing through an injury would provide an emotional lift to the team. But, due to the injury, Hughes played pretty miserably in Game 4. Offensively, he hit his first shot off pure adrenaline and then lacked explosiveness and a shooting touch for the rest of the game. He didn't make the Pistons account for his presence at all on offense. Defensively, he did an OK job, but nothing notably better than the job Gibson did. In total, he had an Eric Snow-esque impact on the game: he was good enough on defense, but pretty much torpedoed the Cavs on offense by allowing the Pistons to play 5 on 4 and really take LeBron out of his game.

I really hope that if Larry plays, it's for a very short period of time, and only for that emotional lift. On balance, Gibson is doing well enough defensively and is a huge improvement offensively. Count me as one who'll be really, really frustrated if Hughes comes onto the floor to start the third quarter (see pretty much every Cavs post below.)

Mike Brown on the Third Quarter

From the Plain Dealer:

"Although Detroit outscored Cleveland in the third quarter of all four regular-season matchups - three of which were won by the Pistons - the problem was not nearly as pronounced as it has been in the postseason. In the regular season, the Cavs were outscored in the third period 37 times in 82 games, and the third quarter was their low-scoring quarter 27 times.

Cavs coach Mike Brown, however, isn't panicking.

'I don't think it's a norm for us,' he said. 'You know, New Jersey is a good team, Detroit is a good team. The games have all been close, and each one of those clubs have veterans on their team that have an inner will that they're not going to give in. A lot of times you want to jump on a team at the beginning of the second half to set a tone. That team [Detroit] is really good at it - not doing anything tricky, not running any new plays, just stepping up their aggression on both ends of the floor, and we're not responding well to it.

'The only thing we can do is keep going through the experience of it, and hope that we don't get hammered bad enough to lose a ballgame in that third quarter. On the offensive end of the floor, we can't settle for jump shots. We have to move the ball, force the issue by attacking the rim.'"

Wow. In my earlier post on Mike Brown not sending the right message to his players, I certainly did not foresee that his message would be "it's OK, hopefully we'll still be in the game in the fourth quarter."

I sincerely hope he's joking.

Chaos Theory

The other day, my girlfriend committed an unpardonable sin: she asked me to move during a 11-2 run by the Cavs.

Let me explain. Every sports fan in the world has some sort of tic when watching their favorite team. For some, it's constant, optimistic chatter. For Cleveland fans, it's generally constant, pessimistic chatter punctuated by explosions of frustration. For that weird Virginia Tech guy in this Coke commercial, it's apparently drinking twice his recommended daily value of calories in cola form and then creating a Virginia Tech logo out of 20-odd empty cans (how does that guy afford this habit?)

Mine is not moving when one of my teams starts putting together a good drive, run, or inning. To be clear, I'm not just talking about not getting up or moving to a different room. I'm talking about not moving a muscle at all. If the Cavs go on a run when I'm texting my friend, I'll have to keep my hands on the cell phone. If the Indians start getting men on base when I'm rubbing my chin, I'll keep rubbing my chin. If the Browns start a promising drive while I'm doing a headstand, I'm watching that drive upside down, baby! Though, I'm really not sure whether a successful Browns drive is less likely than me doing a headstand, and that's saying a lot since I haven't done a headstand since my two gymnastics lessons in the first grade.

To be clear, this superstition isn't just limited to my own activity--it also covers the activity of others. For example, my friend Scott and I watched Games 1 and 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals together, and the Cavs lost. We then watched Games 3 and 4 apart, and the Cavs won. Scott, being a wonderful guy and a reasonable person, realized at the same time I did that these four results mean that we can never again watch a Cavs game together. And so we haven't. (On a side note, Scott was in Baltimore for Game 3. It's a good thing the Cavs won Game 4 with Scott watching at home or he would have had to make the 40 minute drive out to Baltimore for every Cavs playoff game thereafter. But, again, Scott, being a wonderful guy and a reasonable person, was ready to make this "sacrifice.")

So, the other night, when my girlfriend asked me to move so she could sit down, I was less than pleased. It's a total double whammy--not only would I have to move, but she'd be introducing a new variable into the system. Who knows how Larry Hughes will respond? And, when I explained my displeasure to her, she (as usual) laughed in my face--this from someone who never missed an episode of Cheerleader Nation AND The Real Coyote Ugly. My explanation, of course, was perfectly rational: Chaos Theory, the brand of science that holds that one set of events can, in some theoretically explanable way, be effected or affected by some other set of completely unrelated events. The classic example is the butterfly effect. According to Chaos Theory, me moving during a Cavs run may result in the Pistons storming right back--hence my behavior. Plus, for the record, my girlfriend has no explanation for why she was a fan of Cheerleader Nation and The Real Coyote Ugly.

Of course, I can immediately think of two responses detailing why my behavior is completely irrational. One is the scientific response--that I misapplied chaos theory. In reality, chaos theory holds that a small variation in the initial condition of a system can eventually cause large variations as that system evolves. There is, as near as I can tell, no "system" that encompasses LeBron James's ability to posterize Rasheed Wallace and my ability to watch 30 minutes of basketball after my legs have gone numb from sitting in an awkward position.

The other response involves taking my behavior at face value. It goes something like this: "OK, Rakesh, so your sitting in a certain position affects the way your teams play. Does your posture have to change between quarters? What if your team switches sides of the field and you were leaning in one particular direction? If you do get up for a dire emergency, does the position you were sitting in have its same effect when you sit back down?" And so on and so forth.

As embarrassing as it is to admit, I have considered all these questions, and there is no easy answer yet. Hopefully, through years of more experimentation (during the regular season, of course--attempting experiments in the playoffs could be catastrophic), I can arrive at a comprehensive chaos theory for sports. If you'd like to help out, send me an email or post a comment. Together we can make a difference for sports fans everywhere.

In the meantime, if the Cavs go on a run tonight, you'll know it's because of the way my legs happen to be crossed. If the Cavs start playing poorly, you can bet that I'll change my position right away. And if you come over during a big run, I'll have to ask you to leave. But you wouldn't come over in the first place. You're not that unreasonable.

Cavs-Pistons Game 5 Preview

It goes without saying that this game is an absolute must-win for the Cavs. I think we have a really good shot at taking Game 6 at home, largely because of the effect that the raucous Cleveland fan base seems to have on this team. But winning a Game 7 in Detroit is, I think, too daunting a task. So, it's now or never.

That said, this game is going to come down to five key factors:

1.) Whether LeBron James can count to four.

Let's do it out loud: 1, 2, 3, 4. You'll notice I bolded "3." The reason is that LeBron James seems to think that the third quarter doesn't matter. Take, for example, his quote today for the Plain Dealer: "I missed a lot of shots I usually make in the third quarter . . . I missed two layups. I missed a wide-open baseline shot. But in the fourth quarter the game is on the line and I live for the fourth quarter." (Full article here.)

There are two ways to read this quote. One is, "the shots didn't fall for me in the third, but I think they will in time. Plus, I raised my game in the fourth quarter." The second is "I missed some shots and didn't have my A game, but it's OK--I picked it up in the fourth quarter." Neither one of these is a great answer. For us to win this game, and for LeBron to really be considered a great player, LeBron has got to realize that there are four quarters in a game and that he has to push through all of them. MJ never took quarters off. Kobe doesn't. I don't think LeBron is dogging it in the third, but I do think that if he's struggling in that period he needs to be even more aggressive and assertive. He can't simply defer to his teammates and let them carry him to the fourth. And he can't take a "well, eventually the shots will fall" approach. Instead, he has to impose his will on the game like he does in the fourth--and he has to do this throughout the entire game. If he does, we will win.

2.) Whether the Cavs can contain the Pistons in the first quarter.

Most of what I've heard from Flip Saunders lately centers on the importance of the Pistons getting off to a good start instead of relying on the eventual Cavs third-quarter fade to get back into the game (see his quote halfway down this page.) At home, with a friendly crowd, the Pistons are going to come out really strong. We're going to need to prevent them from getting easy dunks (this means actually covering Jason Maxiell this time) and big threes. The Cavs have to contest every shot and try to tire the Pistons out on defense by keeping them honest through constant motion. If we can withstand and/or prevent a Pistons' onslaught in the first quarter, we'll have a substantially better chance of winning the game.

3.) Whether Damon Jones gets to play.

Simply put, he cannot play defense at all. Every time he tried to guard Billups in game 4, he got beat to the hole--badly. Chauncey has been playing uncharacteristically sloppy lately, and the last thing we want to do is let him find his groove at home with cheering fans. If we need to spell Daniel Gibson or Larry Hughes, we may well have to do it with Eric Snow, if only to keep the Pistons honest on the offensive end. I wouldn't be opposed to running a smaller, more athletic lineup of Snow, Gibson, Sasha, LeBron, and Varejao/Gooden when we do need to put Snow in the game so as to ensure that we have guys who will move on offense and offset the Eric Snow 4-on-5 effect.

4.) Whether Drew Gooden shows up.

Gooden is an underrated key to the Cavs offense. Mike Brown got down on him a bit after Game 2 for not being as involved as he could be on the offensive end, and Gooden responded. If Gooden can stay engaged in the game and not beat himself up for defensive or offensive breakdowns, he should have another dominant performance. He's a surprisingly good shooter off the pick/screen and roll, and will have open shots along the baseline pretty much every time LeBron comes his way. If Gooden is draining those open looks, we can stretch oud the Pistons D even more. Also, if Gooden can keep playing tough D with a few hard playoff fouls on Sheed, we may be able to take Sheed out of the game a bit. Remember: after Gooden hacked Sheed in the last game, Sheed threw up a wild 3, got a technical, and proceeded to have no impact on the game anymore. Sheed really is the emotional center to that team, and when he's on tilt and yelling at his teammates, they really seem to fall apart.

5.) Whether LeBron has "the look."

This is closely related to my first point, but I wanted to make LeBron the first and last key to victory to emphasize just how important his attitude and approach are to our success. In Games 1 and 2, LeBron had his traditional friendly and upbeat persona before tipoff; before Games 3 and 4, he showed up early to the gym to refine his jump shot and had a killer look throughout the game. The "new" LeBron HAS to show up for us to win. When he has that jump shot going, it makes him that much harder to defend. But it's not just the technical improvements that make the "new" LeBron so deadly--it really is that look in his eye. The look my friend Scott talked about. The look he had when he thrash-dunked on Rasheed Wallace, the look he had when he slammed down Gibson's sweet feed on the alley-oop, the look he had when he hit that Jordan-esque fadeaway jumper at the end of Game 4. In Game 3 and 4, he seemed to just have a higher understanding of the game than I'd ever seen from him--for example, he saw that the refs were calling a loose game (and make no mistake, he'll get even fewer calls in Detroit) so he decided to double his aggression. If that LeBron comes out--the one Cavs fans love and Pistons fans fear--we may well be able to replicate and even surpass last year's three-game run against the Pistons.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

The Tip

Finally, I come across someone besides Henry Abbott who confirms what every fan watching Game 4 saw: "The Tip." As much as it pains me to link to a blog titled "Detroit Bad Boys," there's some good writing here, and they appear to have noticed something that eluded the recap writers, the Plain Dealer writers, and the four announcers watching the game.

Seriously, had LeBron missed his free throws, this could have been the most catastrophic thing to happen to the Cavs in years--even worse than the missed rebound in last year's Game 6 against the Pistons, even worse than Boozergate, even worse than Michael Redd deciding to stay in Wisconsin. Our superstar player tips in a shot that enables the Pistons to tie Game 4 and potentially go back to Detroit to close out the series? Yikes. I think I knocked my water glass over with my sigh of relief after LeBron hit those free throws instead of pulling a Gilbert at the line.

Mystery Solved!

For those of you curious about Sheed's perplexing bald spot and Drew Gooden's horrific hairdo, I think we have an explanation for both at the bottom of this interesting post about the possible impact Kevin Durant may (or may not) have in Seattle.

UPDATE: I've been perusing The Painted Area more and it's definitely a good read. Check out their posts on Game 1, Game 2, Game 3, Game 4, and LeBron's decision to pass to Donyell.

Kobe Wants Out

Breaking News: Kobe Bryant has demanded a trade from Los Angeles.

No, there's no chance he'll be in a Cavs uniform next year. Still, it's times like these when I wish Isiah Thomas were running the Lake Show. Can you imagine the conversation?

Danny Ferry: Hey, Zeke, we'd like to trade for Kobe. We think he'd be great with LeBron. What about Kobe for Larry Hughes, straight up?

Zeke: I don't know, I'm not sold on Hughes, he's kind of injury prone . . .

Danny Ferry: Fine, fine, you drive a hard bargain, but I'll throw in Damon Jones.

Zeke: Deal!

UPDATE: More coverage of the Kobe situation here, complete with potential trade suitors (TrueHoop).

Duck Hunt

Right after tipoff of Game 3 of the Cavs-Pistons series, my friend Scott texted me the following:

"James looks like he's here to kill someone."

The big question for me in watching the Cavs last night was whether LeBron would have that look. We need it to win. The short answer is that he did. The long answer is that he did when he was given a chance to succeed. If we want to win this series, we have to put him in that position for 48 minutes instead of just 30.

Let me explain: even though it made yesterday's Game 4 preview redundant, I thought Mike Brown made the right move in starting Larry Hughes. Sure, he was injured and not particularly explosive, but it provided an emotional lift for the team. Hughes had a nice shot to open scoring for the Cavs, but after that was clearly out of sync.

Enter Daniel Gibson. WOW. This kid played his heart out. He looked like a young Iverson out there--explosive, with a motor that never stops. Like Billups and Hamilton at their best, Gibson was constantly moving on offense and was absolutely fearless. Case in point was the flagrant by Webber--Gibson laughed it off and sank four straight free throws. He also did a good enough job defensively, offering solid coverage on guys much bigger than him. I don't mind him getting beat once or twice because of how damn explosive he is on the other end, but I do wish he would stop committing so many dumb "help" fouls when the Pistons are clearly about to score. There is no need -- NO NEED -- to foul a guy when he's about to dunk or toss in an easy layup unless you are confident you can make him miss the dunk. I wish the Cavs would learn this--they seem to think they're like Death from Family Guy--one touch is fatal. They are wrong.

Anyway, back to my point. The best thing Gibson did for the team was enable LeBron to succeed. Like no other perimeter player on our roster (save maybe Sasha), Gibson made it impossible for the Pistons to completely sag their defense towards LeBron. They always had to account for him at the three point line, and like a savvy veteran, he took advantage of that and drove right to the hoop most of the time they shaded him that way. As a result, LeBron had more room to operate and was able to step up his game (this also happened in Game 3.) Gibson may very well be the explosive running mate LeBron needs.

Which it is why it was so frustrating when Mike Brown pulled Gibson to start the third and put the Cavs (and LeBron) in a position to fail. Again, I'll reiterate--I think Mike Brown is a fantastic defensive coach who has done a great job as coach of the Cleveland Cavs. But I wish he would stop rolling the starters out there in the third instead of going with a lineup that works. By opening the third with a gimpy Hughes, he basically let the Pistons play four on five and get away with triple teaming LeBron. Plus, Hughes's ankle hindered his ability to move off the ball which is what the Cavs offense needs to work in the first place--movement. Mike Brown claims that he understands that the Cavs are best when they're moving the ball, but he doesn't put them in positions to do that. When Gibson was on the floor, everyone could play their best--Z could drift out and hit those face-up jumpers (his most consistent offensive play) instead of awkwardly stumbling through the post and throwing up wild hook shots. Gooden could do the same (he was making it rain out there, though thankfully he didn't do his "rain dance", which rivals only Mark Madsen's jiving with Shaq at the Lakers parade a few years ago for sheer dance futility). LeBron, too, had more space to operate, and Sasha had clearer lanes to the hoop. Why? Because Gibson was moving effectively off the ball and made the Pistons account for his presence at all times. It's a very simple principle--anyone who has played Duck Hunt as a kid should know how it works. Imagine that the ducks just flew out on the screen and then stopped moving. How difficult would it be to shoot them? That's the Cavs offense that Mike Brown seems to prefer. Now, imagine real Duck Hunt, where two ducks fly onto the screen and keep moving, often away from each other, so you don't have a clear shot at both at any given time (on a side note, anyone who played with just one duck was a pansy). Isn't it MUCH more difficult to defend? Here, try it yourself. Better yet, send that link to Mike Brown.

Hopefully, he will see the light and let Gibson start the third quarter in Game 5. I think if he does, and if we can keep it close or maintain a lead, "killer eye" LeBron will get it done (assuming he shows up again).


1.) Is there anything more infuriating than watching Damon Jones play defense? He was getting beat more frequently than Charlie Frye behind the Browns' offensive line. Why on earth does this guy get playing time? If you're going to put someone in the game who's a non-factor on offense (which he was), why not put in Eric Snow, who can at least play defense?

2.) Despite the Plain Dealer's protestations to the contrary, LeBron James definitely tipped home Antonio McDyess's flailing shot through the lane to bring the Pistons to 89-87. Henry Abbott of TrueHoop agrees. Can you imagine if he had missed the free throws after that? I'm trying to think of where "The Tip" would fit on the top ten list of Cleveland Sports Catastrophes. It would at least fit well with our current nomenclature for such moments.

3.) Finally, in the "it would be too funny to be true anywhere but Cleveland" column, we have this article from the Detroit News. That's right, the coach of the Cavs taking the "if we don't know what we're doing, then they won't be able to defend it" approach. Even my girlfriend, who tried at all costs to avoid watching the Cavs game last night lest she grow frustrated at my infantile protestations, found this one hilarious.

Game 5 Preview will be up soon--looks like Grady and Pronk are going to have to wait a few days to get more coverage from this corner. I'm sure they're devastated.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Cavs-Pistons Game 4 Preview

Henry Abbott of TrueHoop writes:

"Assuming Larry Hughes really won't be playing hard or long anytime soon, I think the Pistons just won this series -- without Hughes, I don't think there's any chance Chauncey Billups stays in his funk much longer. And getting Billups into a funk was one of the greatest accomplishments of the playoffs, for which Hughes deserves a ton of credit."

I really like Henry's blog (see this great series about Leandro Barbosa's quest to play in the NBA) but I have to disagree with him here. Larry was playing great defense on Billups, no question about it. But my view is that Billups was bothered more by the Cavs' trapping defense than by the individual defense of Hughes (though Hughes is a great defender). If that's the key to the series, then we should be able to accomplish it with Eric Snow (who has played great defense throughout the playoffs, though he's not great on offense) and, believe it or not, Daniel Gibson (who played great defense at the end of Game 3) with Z or Drew popping out to help.

Which raises the question: who should start at PG for the Cavs? Let's look through the options (unfortunately, Mike Bibby is not one of them.)


One of the best shutdown defenders in the game, Snow is a seasoned playoff veteran. He pretty much won Game 4 of the Nets series with his (and Larry's) D on Vince "Air Mails it In" Canada and he's played similarly well on that side of the floor. The Cavs are a team that's been winning by playing solid defense, and he provides lots of it.

BUT . . .

He's a total liability on offense. He can't shoot very well (though, mercifully, he doesn't try, unlike Larry) and does little more than bring the ball up. Granted, this is a good thing, since it means LeBron isn't running the "pound the ball into the floor" play that Cavs fans know and love (almost as much as the Browns' "Let's Use Lawrence Vickers" offense of old). But, he allows the Pistons to play 5 on 4, meaning they can always put at least two guys on LeBron.


The most explosive option for the spot, Gibson has really grown up in the playoffs. He hit a couple huge threes in the fourth quarter on Sunday and did an overall great job defending Billups and, believe it or not, Tayshaun Prince. (BTW, someone should do a DNA comparison of Tayshaun Prince and Kevin Garnett to prove that they are aliens, given their ability to stand firm in the low block despite looking like they together don't outweigh Paris Hilton.) LeBron loves playing with him, he keeps the offense moving, and he's great in the open floor. He also stretches the defense with his three-point ability.

BUT . . .

He's not as seasoned as you'd like for your playoff PG. Plus, notwithstanding his great job on Billups and Prince, you have to figure that the Pistons have spent a day or two keying on ways to exploit his youthfulness. Flip Murray certainly did the second he came into Game 3, though that was in large part because Damon Jones was also on the floor. But, he's very beatable in transition, and he's not as playoff-tested as the Pistons are--plus he's going to get absolutely no calls going up against them.


The only serious candidates are LeBron James and Damon Jones. But as good as LeBron is with the ball in the open floor, the thought of him playing PG the whole game makes my head spin because it's just an invitation to run the "pounding the ball" play every damn time we go down the floor. Is it really any mystery at this point that he's at his best in transition and on the move, before the Pistons get a chance to set up against him? Wasn't it just unfair watching him in the low post given his obvious strength and quickness advantage over anyone (though, admittedly, his lack of an actual post game is troubling--more on this in the future). Why on earth would we let him bring the ball up the floor and risk coming out stale? And, as to Damon Jones, I was kidding when I said he's a serious candidate. He's a fine spot-up shooter, but as a PG? Come on.

At the end of the day, my recommended gameplan is as follows: Let Daniel Gibson start. At home, we'll have the crowd pulling for us, the building will be rocking, and as a result, any chance we can get to run out will be a boon. Gibson is better at facilitating transition and he's better on offense. He seems to be smart enough to play defense without getting quick fouls, and he seems at worst passable on the defensive side such that the benefit of him on offense is comparatively greater in relation to Snow. I do think Mike Brown should have Eric Snow sitting really close in case the Pistons start dominating on the wings, or in case they spring out to a quick lead. In that circumstance, rolling the dice with Snow and slowing the Pistons down a touch would be wise.

That said, what really matters in this game is which LeBron shows up. All Cleveland fans hope that the LeBron of Game 3, who really wanted it and came out ready to do anything for the win, will show up. If he does, I think we take this back to Detroit all square. If the other LeBron comes out--the one who doesn't feel like he has his back to the wall or anything to prove--then we're going to have an early end to our season and a long and hard offseason. Plus, I'll have to start writing about something else (hear that, Grady and Pronk? I may be on my way!!!)

Bill Simmons on the Cavs Offense

"But watching this Cavs-Pistons series is like pulling teeth. Have you ever seen a Final 4 team with worse coaching and a worse offense than the Cavs? It's like watching 5 complete strangers playing pickup with a drunk from the neighborhood yelling instructions at them."

Click here for the full chat transcript (the above answer is to the fourth question.)

Ten Thoughts on Game 3

I dedicated yesterday to basking in the glow of the Cavs' first win in many moons in the Eastern Conference Finals, so my apologies for posting a bit late. Without further ado, here are a couple observations from this corner--though I will note that I simply have nothing to add about how incredible LeBron was, so I'll focus on other things that haven't garnered as much attention:

1.) Where the hell was Rip Hamilton during that entire game? During the first game, my buddy Scott and I decided to play a Cavs drinking game (I will post the scoring sheet later, but in the interim, will just let you know that one of the items on our list was Chris Webber trying to dunk but failing since he's no longer explosive--it happened twice) and considered putting "Rip Hamilton hitting improbable jumper" on there, then didn't because we realized we'd be drunk by the end of the first quarter. Seriously, the guy made as many improbable jump shots as Z had awkward offensive possessions. In game 2, Rip was doing his thing (running off screens, catching and shooting) but the shots weren't falling. Game 3, though, was different--it was like he wasn't on the floor at all. I'd be fine with this behavior continuing throughout the series.

2.) Huge game for Daniel Gibson. Hit some big threes, played clutch defense down the stretch--this kid may be the real deal. I could see us trotting out a starting lineup of Gibson, Sasha, LeBron, Gooden, and Ilgauskas next year and being pretty damn happy with it. In the meantime, let's hope that lineup can hold up tonight . . .

3.) . . . because wonder of wonders, Larry Hughes is injured again. Every day seems to provide a new reason for me to be upset that Michael Redd decided to be a fool and re-up with Milwaukee a few years ago. Can you imagine him on our team instead of Hughes? He would have played in twice as many games and he would have been the perfect complement to LeBron. Honestly, what was he thinking? Did he really believe that Andre "the Giant" Bogut had any chance at saving that team from perennial 8-seed, first round elimination-at best territory?

4.) That said, Hughes did look good for the few minutes he was out there. He was taking the ball to the hoop instead of settling for the outside jumper (the reverse layup he sank right before the injury was a work of art). That's the Larry Hughes we signed--that's the Larry Hughes I can get behind. I wish he would play like that all the time, instead of more often than not getting possessed by the ghost of Ricky Davis (no, I know he's not dead, but his career sure seems to be). I wonder if there's any merit to Larry Hughes coming off the bench next year as an energy shooter/slasher--Gibson appears to be the long-term solution at the point, and Hughes and Sasha can't be in the lineup at the same time . . .

5.) When did Sasha Pavlovic become such a great defender? I mean, he's a good enough outside shooter (he hit one three in the first quarter that was pretty unbelievable), he's one of the most deceptively athletic players in the NBA (every time he has the ball he's a threat to take it to the hoop and at worst draw a foul) but now he's also a phenomenal defender. Yeah, Rip didn't have much energy, but Pavs prevented him from getting started in the first place. I really, really, really hope we match any offer for this guy, even if it means letting go of Raggedy Andy.

6.) I think the "Webber Face" has to replace the "Manning Face" for "Most Pathetic look by an athlete". Honestly, the guy always looks like he's a.)about to cry b.) just passed a kidney stone c.) wishing that Kobe had run Shaq out of town a few years sooner so that he could have won a title in Sacramento.

7.) Kudos to Mike Brown for sticking with a lineup that worked from the second quarter to the third quarter (did he read my blog? That must have been it). Gibson's presence in the game made the Cavs much harder to defend--with both Pavlovic and Gibson in the game, the Pistons couldn't swarm LeBron because of the perpetual threat of a kickout (plus, Donyell wasn't in the game, so there was a substantially lower chance of the Cavs missing the resulting shot). I half expected Brown to come out with the starters in the third quarter, even though Hughes was playing on only one leg. But he accomplished the miraculous task of going with what was working before halftime, and as a result kept the Cavs in the game.

8.) Is this the birth of a new LeBron? No, I'm not reneging on my promise in the preface to this post. I'm just curious as to whether the constantly passionate LeBron of Game 3 -- the one calling out his teammates for boneheaded plays, constantly working the referees, talking frequently in the huddle, showing up early for practice to work on his balky jumpshot -- is here to stay. In Game 3, he seemed to finally have that intensity that D-Wade had last year and that Jordan had in his prime. That's LeBron at his finest, the great player who trusts his teammates but expects them to play at the same high level of intensity that he does.

9.) On that note, did anyone else notice LeBron reenacting a great moment in Indians history? It happened in the second half, when LeBron made a sick feed to Drew Gooden under the hoop, and Gooden decided to dribble before dunking and thus got his shot blocked out of bounds. LeBron responded by staring down Gooden, pointing to his flexed bicep, and yelling "it's right (profanity) here," much like Albert Belle did years ago after the White Sox asked to check his bat for cork. Which leads to a good question: does anyone think we can get Jason Grimsley to sneak into the Cavs' locker room tonight and replace Gooden with Carlos Boozer?

10.) I would LOVE to possess a "Beat Detroit" T-shirt. That said, those t-shirts have to go down as one of the least creative fan-inspiration efforts of all time. First, we stole the t-shirt idea from both Golden State and then Utah (honestly, who the hell steals ideas from the Utah Jazz fan base? That's taking Quarter Pounders to a potluck--the best anyone can say about your efforts is "it's the thought that counts" before throwing the sack of burgers in the trash.) More importantly (since it is cool to see an arena of people wearing the same color, lack of creativity aside) Cavs management also came up with the least creative t-shirt slogan ever. Why not just get t-shirts that say "Win" or "Don't Lose?" As my friend Wyatt pointed out, "even 'Defeat Detroit' would have been better, since it's alliterative. No wonder you guys are down two games."

I can't top that, so I'll have to leave you there for now. Stay tuned for my preview of Game 4.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Why I Love Page 2

Page 2 on ESPN has the following header today:

"Page 2: Where We Wonder How Larry Hughes Missed That Shot."

Couldn't have said it better myself. Tip of the cap.

Why My Couch Hates Mike Brown

A couple summers ago, I worked at a law and leadership camp for high schoolers. It was a wonderful job and one of the best experiences of my life, but it was not without its frustrations. Cardinal among these was when I would lecture about one specific aspect of trial procedure pretty much every day--sometimes twice a day--and then find that none of my students followed my teachings during the trial simulation at the end of each camp session. After a while, I realized that maybe my teaching style was getting in the way of my message, changed the way I presented my lesson, and lo and behold, my students finally started to get the point.

Fast forward to last night's Cavs game. Yes, LeBron got fouled really hard on the last play. Yes, the refs totally botched that call in a completely unfathomably bad way. Yes, Larry Hughes missed a wide-open shot that there's no excuse for him to have missed. But, that's not why we lost, and Cleveland fans should know it. They lost that game because Mike Brown just doesn't know what to do with this team at halftime.

Imagine you're Mike Brown. You know your team is a horrifically bad third quarter team. Pretty much every game in the regular season (and especially in the playoffs) you've watched your team go into the half with a chance to really bring the hammer down on the other team, then you've seen them squander those leads and let the other team back into it. As a result, the average heart attack rate of Clevelanders everywhere has needlessly increased--plus, my couch ends up getting fist marks in it a fair bit of the time (though, in all fairness, when LeBron got hacked with no call, Larry missed, and Anderson missed, I actually fell down on the ground and started hitting the floor, giving my couch got a nice reprieve).

Back to Mike Brown. If you're him, what do you do when you go into the half?

Apparently nothing. Because like in pretty much every other game this season, your team comes out flat. They play with low energy, look hapless on offense, and keep letting the Pistons take big shots.

Now, I'm a Mike Brown fan. I really think he's done a lot with this team. He's taught them to play good playoff defense--which, paradoxically, only makes his failures in the third quarter more frustrating. Maybe this is fuzzy logic, but it seems to me that since he's shown that he knows how to teach these players defense, he should also be able to teach them to come out strong in the third quarter. I strongly believe that a large part of the reasons we come out so flat in the third quarter has to derive from the way Mike Brown is packaging the message he gives them at the half.

I've read some other commentators say that the problem is also that Mike Brown doesn't make good halftime adjustments. I think the opposite was true in this quarter--he made adjustments that were unnecessary. Think about it. At the end of the second quarter, when the Cavs went on their run, they had really mixed things up from the starting lineup. Ilgauskas wasn't in the game--instead, Raggedy Andy was dominating on the offensive boards and playing on the good side of reckless. Sasha Pavlovic was moving off the ball and hitting some shots. Daniel Gibson was hitting threes and stretching the Pistons defense. Most importantly, because Gibson (and, to a lesser extent Donyell Marshall and Damon Jones) were getting playing time, LeBron didn't have to bring the ball up the floor and play 1 on 5--instead, he could move off the ball with Gibson at the point and get in better scoring position.

Now, there's a school of thought that says "Well, the Pistons are going to adjust to that, so maybe I should change it up a little." But I say, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" (apparently I speak in cliches and use bad grammar). That lineup was giving the Pistons nightmares. We were giving up a few dunks to Jason "If I'm Lucky People Will Confuse Me for Vernon" Maxwell, but we were also building a lead.

So my question is, why not keep that lineup out there? By that point, the Pistons had shown that they could adjust to the Ilgauskas-Gooden lineup that was so strong at the end of Game 1. But they hadn't yet adjusted to the smaller lineup. Wouldn't it be better to go with what's working instead of just sticking your starters out there? Why on earth would you bring in cold-shooting Larry Hughes and Drew Gooden when Gibson and Varejao had been playing so well? I really don't think the Pistons made a lot of adjustments as much as we over-adjusted and ignored what worked for us in the second quarter.

To sum it up: Mike Brown is a great defensive coach, but he's looking more and more like a one-trick pony as the playoffs go on. He seems afraid to go with what's working because it's not familiar enough, and he seems unable to get through to this team at halftime. In the short term, he's gotta find a way to change the way he's packaging his speech. Long term, we need to get a better offensive assistant/consultant than the guys we already have(Rick Carlisle would be great, but there are some obvious problems there). Either way, we need some help on offense. My couch can only take so much more abuse.

Some Great Blogs

Here are some great sports blogs that you should check out (NOTE: Unfortunately, I can't create blog hyperlinks at work, but I will include them as soon as I get home. In the meantime, hopefully you can find your way there):

1.) The Sports Guy's Basketball Blog:

Bill Simmons is just hilarious. He gets sports from the fan's perspective and always keeps me chuckling (even if he does get down on the Cavs a lot, but hey, who doesn't)? I check ESPN at least twice a day while at work to see if he has anything new up.

2.) TrueHoop by Henry Abbott:

Great writer, knows the NBA like the back of his hand, fun to read.

3.) Brian Windhorst's Cavaliers Blog:

Much more "inside" info on the Cavs, plus he knows the X's and O's of basketball much more than I do (see his posts on the Wizards offense, for example). He's also much calmer and a better long-term evaluator than I am. Case in point: Brian makes the good point that the Cavs losing in these two games is a good experience in that it gives the team an edge and shows how much farther they've come since last year. I, on the other hand, spent the fourth quarter of last night's game in physical pain at the Cavs performance and made a fool of myself in front of my more taciturn and well-balanced friends.

More to come later.


Welcome to 43 Years, a blog devoted to the futility, frustrations, and obsessions that come from being a lifelong Cleveland sports fan. Since it's my first post, I thought I'd answer a few questions from my loyal readers:

1.) Why did you decide to put this blog together?

There are lots of fantastic blogs out there about sports, and some about Cleveland sports in particular. But I don't think any of the blogs yet focus on the sheer gamut of emotions that Cleveland fans face when it comes to sports--the initial, feeble attempts at optimism, the pessimism that eventually clouds our minds, the sinking feeling of desperation when we see that Larry Hughes is the person who will be taking a 10-foot shot to win game 2 against Detroit (after LeBron got mauled). Case in point: when the Browns had the good fortune to land both Joe Thomas and Brady Quinn in the first round of the NFL draft, I was elated. Then, within five minutes of the second pick, my friend Scott (also from Cleveland) posted the following message on my facebook wall:

"$10 says Thomas falls into Quinn three games into the preseason, injuring them both."

Honestly, what other fan base in the nation could really come up with something like that? And don't you feel so much more enriched for reading it? So, that's my goal--to document what it's like to be a Cavs, Indians, and Browns fan; to occasionally share some thoughts on what the teams could do to improve; and, hopefully, to get Bill Simmons, Henry Abbott, or Brian Windhorst to notice me.

2.) Fan from Chicago, Boston, insert-other-"cursed"-sports-town-here: "Hey, you ass, my [Cubs haven't won a World Series in eighty years] [Celtics just lost a chance to draft Oden and Durant] [team generally blows worse than yours], what makes you think that it's so bad to be from Cleveland that you have to blog about it?"

The answer is simple. I maintain that no other sports town is as holistically cursed as Cleveland. Yes, the Cubs have had some hard luck--but the Bulls won six NBA titles over the past 15 years, and the Bears were just in the Super Bowl and have a chance to get back. And if you're a White Sox fan and are complaining, you deserve to die. For Boston fans: yes, Kevin Durant is awesome and it sucks that you missed out on him. But, um, the Pats won several Super Bowls and are a perennial contender; and the Red Sox won it all a few years back.

Cleveland, on the other hand, has had no championships AT ALL in the last 43 years. Two World Series runner-ups, a handful of Eastern Conference finals appearances, no good football to really speak of (in my lifetime, at least). So, suck it.

3.) Wow, that was really smooth--the way you worked an explanation for the title of the blog into one of your answers.

Not a question, but yeah, wasn't it?

4.) What were some alternate titles for the blog?

Before settling on 43 Years, I went through a lot of options in my head. Here were the top five, countdown-style:

5.) 60 Million -- this is the amount of money that Larry Hughes gets paid. I ultimately decided against this title because Hughes seems like a good person and really could be a good number 2 for LeBron. I actually believe this (I may be the only person in Cleveland who does). The problem is, he never plays the way he should--slashing to the hoop, shooting in rhythm from within 20 feet, moving off the ball to take some pressure off LeBron. But that's neither here nor there--the amount of his contract is pretty staggering.
4.) The Curse of LeCharles Bentley -- I read "The Curse of Rocky Colavito" as a kid and loved it. As a younger Cleveland fan, I think of the Bentley injury as symbolic: we finally do something right in the free agent market in addressing our offensive line with a Pro-Bowl player . . . and he blows out his knee on the first play of practice.
3.) Magic Dust -- who doesn't love it when LeBron throws talcum in the air to start a game? But, the title would be too effete, and, well, too optimistic. Plus, if people thought I were a Magic fan, I'd quit sports.
2.) I don't remember the exact quote, but I considered naming the blog whatever Tim Couch said that time he had a concussion and started crying. What a great moment for Cleveland.
1.5) "River on Fire" -- this one is for my buddy Jordan, who is a Pistons fan and brought up the Cuyahoga River debacle last night. Talk about adding insult to injury.

(Drumroll for Number One):

1.) "Third Quarter Meltdown." I hatched this idea yesterday night when I watched the Cavs melt down in the third quarter (as they have in the previous 90 games this year.) Watching that happen really sums up the range of emotions you feel as a Cleveland fan--optimism as the team builds up a good lead, confusion when they decide to change the lineup from what was working, and then fury when they blow it. I actually proposed the idea for the blog to my girlfriend under this name, and she rolled her eyes at me (as she often does, but she's generally probably right to). Little did she know how much spare time I would have at work.

So, hopefully I have answered all your questions and enticed you to keep reading. Stay tuned for links to some fantastic sports blogs that are much better than this one, as well as my analysis of Game 2 of Cavs-Pistons.