Longtime coach and current broadcaster Jeff Van Gundy often says that only a handful of coaches really make a difference across the NBA landscape.
I’ve never considered Mike Brown to be one of those coaches–until now.
After watching his team be lambasted by the Celtics in Game 2, Brown blamed his team’s sense of entitlement for the defeat.
It’s time to look in the mirror.
Brown’s ineptitude is seriously hurting the Cavs’ chances for a title. LeBron’s tentative play and Shaq’s decline aren’t helping matters, but ultimately Cleveland’s struggles can be traced back to Brown’s inability to make fairly obvious adjustments.
The Cavs have been down this road before.
The Magic baffled the Cavs in last year’s Eastern Conference Finals with a pick and roll attack orchestrated by Hedo Turkgolu. Brown used Delonte West on the 6-10 Turkgolu for much of the series and was reluctant run an offense late in games–choosing instead to call clear-outs for LeBron throughout the majority of the fourth quarter, exhausting his superstar by the end of the game.
Brown’s defenders will no doubt say that Brown had little choice last year, given Mo Williams’ disappearing act and the lack of a versatile forward and normal-sized shooting guard on the Cavs’ roster.
There are no more excuses.
Antawn Jamison is the versatile forward. Anthony Parker is the normal-sized shooting guard. Compared to Sasha Pavlovic, Jamario Moon looks like Glen Rice. J.J. Hickson has improved tremendously from a season ago.
Yet it is happening all over again.
The Cavs escaped Game 1 against the Celtics despite being gashed by Rajon Rondo. Brown figured to use Anthony Parker on Rondo for much of Game 2, but instead again opted to use Mo Williams for long stretches against him.
Williams is horrible at keeping opposing point guards out of the lane and a poor defender overall. Putting him on Ray Allen makes much more sense; the bigger Allen is a reluctant post player who won’t try to take the ball of the dribble often. Rondo’s penetration against Williams is causing huge problems for the Cavs’ defense.
Anthony Parker belongs on Rondo; if not him, then Delonte West. Size bothers Rondo, quickness doesn’t. LeBron has guarded Rondo with some success in the past and could do so again. Jamario Moon is another option.
Brown’s continued reliance on Shaq is also hurting the Cavs against the Celtics.
Despite the national media’s insistence that the big man has shed 20 pounds and is in great shape, Shaq is clearly laboring. He was bad against the Bulls and has been awful in the first two games against the Celtics. That didn’t matter against the Bulls and shouldn’t matter against the Celtics–his true value won’t have an opportunity to manifest itself until he goes against Dwight Howard.
Although Shaq needs some minutes here and there to get ready for that possibility, he should not be getting touches on five consecutive possessions with the Cavs desperately needing a bucket. In fact, he should not even be in the game.
Enter J.J. Hickson.
One of the biggest reasons behind the Cavs’ success in the regular season, Hickson has shined in limited minutes during the first two games of Round 2. Shaq’s +/- of -17 in the first two games, along with 8-0f-22 shooting on what amounts to shots inside four feet suggest that he shouldn’t get more than 15 minutes of playing time until he contributes. Meanwhile, Hickson’s athleticism and ability to guard Kevin Garnett should be utilized–early and often.
It makes sense to play Hickson and Varejao together, put the bigger LeBron on Rondo from time to time when Antawn Jamison is on the floor, and give Shaq 10-15 minutes, depending on his production.
Brown has a ton of options at his disposal and has three days before Game 3 Friday in Boston to make adjustments.
It will be very interesting to see what he comes up with. Frankly, I’m not expecting much.