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).
RANDOM OTHER OBSERVATIONS:
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.