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.