The Cleveland Cavaliers have been touted as the Eastern Conference’s best team for the past two years. Last year, they got annihilated in five games by the Orlando Magic in the Conference Finals, and should have been swept if not for a far too frequently replayed LeBron James buzzer beater in Game 2.
This year, they came back with Shaquille O’Neal , specifically for the purpose of matching up with Dwight Howard and the Magic in this year’s playoffs, and Antwan Jamison, a definite quality addition for King James’ supporting cast.
The result was a 61-21 season (really not playing with much effort in their last four games, all losses) and the overall number one seed for the playoffs. They easily disposed of a weak Chicago Bulls team in five and moved on to face the Celtics.
The Boston Celtics signed Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett, two future Hall-of-Famers, and promptly won the NBA Championship two years ago. Now, age has caught up with Boston, and many wrote them off as a serious contender for this year’s championship.
They finished 50-32, thanks largely to the continued emergence of Rajon Rondo as a star, and blew a whole host of double digit leads en route.
They brushed past Dwayne Wade (who single-handedly won one game for Miami) in five, but definitely did not seem like they would worry LeBron’s Cavaliers. Little did they know, Cavs head coach Mike Brown thinks it’s 2001. More on this momentarily.
The series between Boston and Cleveland has been a rather strange one; both teams won away games handily, and after four games, the Cavs found themselves all tied up, 2-2. Game 5 could go down as one of the most important games of the NBA in recent history.
LeBron James was nowhere near the best player on the court, and the flaws in his game were clearly exposed; namely, his inability to post up (especially on the smaller Tony Allen). He never showed that killer instinct of a champion, of a Jordan or Bryant.
He was far more similar to a Tracy McGrady, disappearing when it counts. However, even the greatest players have off nights; Kobe has had tons. So the real reason why this game was lost and could prove to be so important comes down to Cleveland head coach Mike Brown.
Shaq was brought in for the obvious size advantage. What Brown seems to have failed to notice is that O’Neal weighs around 350 pounds and moves slower than the clock on the last day of school.
When the opposing team, in this case, the Celtics, has no Dwight Howard, or similarly sized center, there is absolutely no reason for Mike Brown to play Shaq. He slows down the Cavs, he plugs up the paint so LeBron has a harder time driving in, and in this case, he gave the aging Celtics a big speed advantage.
So why is Mike Brown playing O’Neal so much? It is not 2001 anymore, and Shaq is not the dominant force he once was.
After being blown out by the Celtics on Sunday night, Brown decided to change his entire rotation, the same rotation that got them to 61-17, based on one bad performance.
He barely let Anderson Varejao, Jamario Moon, and J.J. Hickson play in Game 5, and instead gave Shaq the opportunity to be the leading scorer with 21 points.
The Cavs will never win a playoff game in which Shaq is their leading scorer. Those three players (Varejao, Moon, Hickson) should be starting against Boston; the playoffs are about match-ups, and there is no way that Boston could beat the Cavs so easily with those three in the rotation. They would be slower, less athletic, and basically, the worse team.
The combination of LeBron’s egg-laying and Mike Brown’s amnesia have set up Game 5 to be a hugely important game for the future of the NBA.
Assuming that the Celtics go on to win this series in Boston on Thursday night, there is the very real possibility that James will leave during his free agency this summer.
He has already been very vague about his intentions, never committing to Cleveland, but it is obvious that he would not leave if the Cavs won the title this year.
The problem is that they don’t look like they are capable of doing that (even if they comeback against Boston, they would have to face a well-rested red-hot Orlando Magic team that eliminated them last year).
So should Cleveland be knocked out, LeBron would most likely go to the New York Knicks, and basketball will be dead in Cleveland.
Once the necropolis of professional sports, the city will be furious to lose their best chance at a pro sports championship, largely due to illogical coaching decisions.
Not only could this series determine where LeBron will play, but also how he will play. Will he be a great player who never had what it took to win a ring, a la Karl Malone?
Or will he be the player everyone expects him to be?
James did not show the aggressiveness and tenacity of a two-time MVP in the biggest game of the season, and that is something that may not always be fixable.
His low post game issues will be corrected, but will his big game ability? Game 6 will be a huge step in either direction.
How Mike Brown Killed Basketball in Cleveland
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