I talked to a current NBA coach who has been on the staff of several teams that have gone deep into the playoffs. I asked him to pretend he was Mike Brown, and what should the Cavs coach do in Game 2 of the NBA Finals? “Boy, that’s tough,” he said. “I’ve coached against (the Spurs) a lot and never had much luck. They are really, really good. Especially in a setting like this.”
Since the San Antonio Spurs are going for their fourth title in nine years, we probably know that. But the coach did have some ideas:
Why were the Cavs chasing Tony Parker 30 feet from the basket on those high pick-and-roll plays? This was a surprise, as Brown knows Parker’s game very well — they were together in San Antonio: “Parker will kill them if they keep doing that,” the coach said. “Back off. Play behind the pick. Dare him to shoot that jump shot. If he makes it, fine. He’ll miss some. But going to the rim — he finishes as well as any little guard I’ve ever seen.”
If Parker does get into the lane, go after him: “Don’t think he’s going to pass. He’ll probably shoot, he’s going for a layup. If he does pass off — fine. You’d rather have someone take a jumper — and the Spurs do have good shooters — than Parker turning the game into a layup drill.”
If Larry Hughes is hurt, don’t play him: “Larry is not a great outside shooter or decision-maker,” the coach said. “His best attribute is his athleticism. But if he has a bad foot, that’s gone. Play the (Daniel) Gibson kid more. At least you have to guard him. I’ve coached Damon Jones, and I like him in these games because he won’t panic and he can make an outside shot. Eric Snow is fearless and he’ll go after Parker. I’d play any of those guys — combine them — rather than just ride Hughes right now.”
Be physical on the boards: “The Cavs weren’t ready for the Spurs. They will push you, they’ll stick their shoulders into you,” the coach said.
The Cavs were crushed 43-32 on the boards. The Spurs scored 19 second-chance points. The Cavs had 10.
Three key stats for the Cavs: 1) Did they outrebound the other team? 2) Did they score more second-chance points? 3) Did they take more shots than the other team? In Game 1, the Spurs won all three categories.
How to defend Tim Duncan: “I wish I knew,” the coach said. “I’d back off him, take away his layups and drives. He may drill you with the bank shot, but at least he misses that sometimes. You can try fouling him because he’s not that good at the line (65 percent in the playoffs), but he’s not terrible. He also will get your entire front line in foul trouble. Hey, he’s a Hall of Famer.”
Ball movement: “I’d like to see the Cavs start their offense sometimes with someone besides LeBron James having the ball on one side of the court, and LeBron on the other. Maybe have the pick-and-roll run with two other guys — the Cavs almost always do it with LeBron. That could create some room to swing the ball to LeBron and make the Spurs’ defense move to get him.”
More ball movement: James can’t always throw the skip pass — from the far right side of the court to the left. The Spurs are too big, too active, too smart. Often, he needs to make the easier pass to someone at the top of the key. Damon Jones was open at least twice when James tried to throw cross-court passes to Donyell Marshall that became turnovers.”
Play the shooters at certain points in the game: “What makes San Antonio so scary along with the obvious is they also have four guys who can make outside shots: (Bruce) Bowen, Michael (Finley), (Brent) Barry and (Robert) Horry. You want at least three, because one or two will always be cold. The Cavs have some shooters in Jones, Gibson, Marshall. I’d give the ball to LeBron, spread out the floor and let him work the ball to those guys. You have to give the Spurs different looks. People keep saying LeBron has to step up. If he doesn’t get some help, then he can’t step up. The Spurs won’t let him.”
The series is not over: “People have been downplaying the Cavs for weeks. This is a good team, a tough team. I have a tremendous appreciation for what Mike Brown has done to get them to defend and rebound. They keep their poise, and don’t let a bad game get them down. San Antonio does everything the Cavs do, only better. But I’m telling you, the Cavs can win some games. I think they’ll make some adjustments, and this can become a good series.”
TALKING SHOT CLOCKS
I have covered every Cavs playoff game since 1985. That was 79 when the Cavs beat the Detroit Pistons in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals at Quicken Loans Arena. That’s 79 games, home and away, in a 22-year span. In those 79 playoff games — home and away — I never have seen the electrical system malfunction like it did when the shot clock was out for the entire second quarter.
By now, fans know the clock was fixed at the half, and the Cavs went on to win 98-82, reaching their first NBA Finals. But the clock malfunction and the 21-minute delay to start the second quarter — and the clock still didn’t work — was embarrassing to Cavs fans around the country. I know, because they sent me e-mails about it.
Cavs owner Dan Gilbert has replaced the key parts of the clock so there is no repeat when the Finals come to Cleveland. But this was not the first shot clock malfunction this season. One other time, they had to call out the time — as they did in Game 6. There also were some minor problems. This problem should not have popped up in the playoffs.
Cavaliers management might consider this to be a cheap shot, but so be it. They can make the fireworks bolt out of the scoreboards. They can rattle eardrums with music and screaming. They are deathly afraid of even 10 seconds of silence. Early in Game 3 at Quicken Loans Arena, there was a slight delay when some flakes of dry ice floated down from the scoreboard onto the court. What’s the deal with dry ice? They have it up there so the fire coming out of the scoreboard during the pregame introductions doesn’t set everything into flames. The NBA sometimes becomes so obsessed with marketing and “game presentation,” it, too, forgets that the game remains the thing.
No doubt, they tested all their scoreboard promotions, practiced all the gimmicks and giveaways that take place during timeouts. They have shirts and balls flying into the crowd. They have cheerleaders strutting and shaking their bodies. They have “Scream Team” members spinning on their heads and rolling on the court. But they had no backup plan to immediately fix the clocks, or at least none that worked. Knowing Gilbert, this probably won’t happen again. But there also should be a serious discussion about priorities.
Terry Pluto is a columnist for the Akron Beacon Journal.