Blog Entry

How the Celtics did in Mike Brown (UPDATE)

Posted on: May 14, 2010 4:59 pm
Edited on: May 14, 2010 10:04 pm
On a day when the fallout hit the fan with alarming swiftness in Cleveland, it’s worth revisiting how the team with the best record in the NBA got in this predicament in the first place. 

There were numerous factors. The health and playoff savvy of their proud opponent, the Boston Celtics. The failure to re-integrate Shaquille O’Neal into the starting lineup after he’d missed the last six weeks of the regular season. LeBron’s free agency. LeBron’s elbow. 

All of it conspired to set a series of potentially devastating dominoes into motion. The first one – Mike Brown getting fired as the Cavs’ coach – didn’t tumble on Friday. But it’s teetering as violently as the emotions of fans all over northeast Ohio. 

Amid a report by that Cavs owner Dan Gilbert already has decided to fire Brown, Gilbert and GM Danny Ferry held their season-wrapup news conferences Friday and said that wasn’t true. It isn’t true yet, is what they should have said. Gilbert, in effect, delivered that very message when he refused to answer a point-blank question as to whether he could say definitively that Brown would be back next season. 

“I like the way you asked that question,” Gilbert said, and then he dodged it, saying everyone in the organization would be evaluated over the next 7-10 days. 

“We are going to take a long, deep, hard look at every key position in this franchise from top to bottom,” Gilbert said. “We’re not going to react emotionally the next morning after unexpectedly losing a series.” 

Essentially, the decision will be up to LeBron James, according to a person familiar with organizational dynamics. "That's where this thing is headed," said the person, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to discuss team business. "LeBron's going to make the call. That's what this is all about."

How could the Cavs be held hostage by James on the free-agent front and also have him deciding the future of their coach?

"Hey, they created this monster," the person said. "They kept giving in to him on everything and now you pay they price."

The notion that Brown is on his way out – after back-to-back 60-win seasons and only one year removed from being named NBA coach of the year – should be obvious to anyone who watched the Celtics-Cavs series. Boston coach Doc Rivers constructed a strategy aimed at attacking the Cavs’ biggest weaknesses, which is what any team tries to do. Few teams have executed such a plan better than the Celtics did. The fact is, as the aftermath engulfed the Cavs on Friday, the Celtics had to be amazed that their plan worked as well as it did. 

This wasn’t X’s and O’s. It was shock and awe. The Celtics saw not only weaknesses, but vulnerabilities – which are like festering weaknesses in basketball. They thought if they attacked certain areas successfully, it would not only result in good outcomes on the court, but potentially lethal side effects for the Cavs. The most damaging side effect of such a strategy is dissension, which became the theme for the Cavs over the last two games of the series. 

“You have to get a team to that point,” Ray Allen said. “It doesn’t involve taking shortcuts. You can’t just start games trying to go for the jugular right off the bat. It’s like an A, B, C all the way to Z process that all of us have to go through, and it requires everybody. When we’re as a team willing to put forth that effort from the offensive and the defensive end, then you can find those weaknesses and create that dissension.” 

The Celtics knew that going into the series, Brown already was facing an uphill battle with Shaq’s return to the lineup. They knew he’d feel pressured by Shaq’s reputation and $20 million salary to play him if he was healthy. The more Shaq was on the court, the Celtics believed, the better. The more he was on the court with Antawn Jamison, who hadn’t played alongside O’Neal until the playoffs began, that would be better still. 

The Celtics knew that Kevin Garnett would be able to attack Jamison, given that Garnett was one of the few opponents that Jamison ever faces with more size and length than he has. If the Celtics got Garnett going in a big way, that would free up Kendrick Perkins to wrestle under the basket with Shaq. All of this, they hoped, would lead to all kinds of griping and disagreements behind the scenes for the Cavs about who should be playing up front, and in which matchups. Sure enough, that’s just how it played out, with Brown eventually trying to re-insert Zydrunas Ilgauskas into the rotation in Game 5 – too late to quell the grumbling and insecurities in the Cavs’ locker room. Responding to the pressure of the unfavorable Garnett-Jamison matchup, Brown decided to start Game 6 with Shaq on Garnett and Jamison on Perkins. Um, that didn’t work, either. 

But that was only a small part of it. The Celtics knew that Mo Williams is a less than willing defender, and that he wouldn’t react well to pressure from Rajon Rondo, or to hard, physical screens. Williams shying away from contact in the Heat of a playoff battle would, in turn, infuriate LeBron to the point where Brown would have to take Williams off Rondo for stretches in games. Brown’s inability to solve the Rondo problem – he switched to Anthony Parker in the middle of the series, then started using LeBron in certain situations in Games 5 and 6 – only resulted in more dissension, which ultimately undermined Brown’s authority. 

The third key part of this divide-and-conquer paradigm was putting road blocks between LeBron and the basket and daring him to, 1) make the wrong basketball play by forcing his dribble into triple coverage, or 2) make the right play by passing to his teammates, who wouldn’t be up to the task. Time and again in the series, LeBron’s supporting cast melted under the pressure – from Williams, to Jamison, to Parker. The only one who stepped up consistently was Shaq, and the Celtics knew Shaq didn’t have enough left in the tank to carry his team for 48 minutes. 

It was obvious that the Celtics’ strategy was working when I asked James before Game 6 if he wanted to or planned to have any input into the game plan. He didn’t say he didn’t want to, only that it wasn’t his place. 

“It’s tough, because you don’t want to try to step on Coach’s toes,” James said. “It’s the whole coaching staff, and I agree with the system that they’ve put in. We’ve been successful in the postseason. We’ve been successful in the regular season. For me to go sit in the coaches’ meeting and say, ‘This is what I feel the strategy should be’, you only can go so far with that. You have to play the game and be around the game to understand exactly what I’m saying. You just can’t do things like that.” 

James didn’t have much nice to say about Brown throughout the series, and he refused to come to his coach’s rescue in the postgame news conference Thursday night, when he questioned Brown’s in-game adjustments. The Celtics were probably busy preparing for their next divide-and-conquer mission, Orlando, by then. But somewhere, they were smiling.

Since: Apr 13, 2009
Posted on: May 16, 2010 9:10 pm

How the Celtics did in Mike Brown (UPDATE)

I couldn't agree more

Since: May 9, 2010
Posted on: May 15, 2010 5:33 pm

How the Celtics did in Mike Brown (UPDATE)

I'm consistently impressed by Berger's strategic analyses. He could be a great coach.

Since: May 15, 2010
Posted on: May 15, 2010 4:17 pm

How the Celtics did in Mike Brown (UPDATE)

Wow, an article that (1) is well-researched and written, and (2) makes some sense!  Good analysis of how a veteran team prevails, and an indictment of the focus on the star system in sports.  I like LeBron, but the Cavs have some issues, and clearly one player leaving or coming isn't going to solve them all.  They need some good, tough, physical players to win the East, and if James leaves, they'll have plenty of cap space Smile  As far as coach Brown, he tried to make some adjustments, and they didn't work.  I don't recall any 'Phil Jackson is a fool' arguments when the Celts and Paul Pierce schooled the Lakers in 2008.  They lost because nobody stepped up behind Kobe, who felt that launching as many shots as he could was going to be the team's winning strategy.  James is one man, and one amn can't beat 5.  I guess it's all a matter of perspective, and winners have better perspective (and look smarter, tougher and better-coached) than losers.

Since: Feb 7, 2010
Posted on: May 15, 2010 3:39 pm

Danny Ferry is letting Brown take all the hit.

Simple how boston beat cleveland, its calledDanny Ferry and  a "seven game series".  This is not a one game matchup like the regular season, where cleveland could dash and dine. In a series you get to see the workings of a team over and over.  This now enables a coach to make game adjustments. Whats the saying fool me once shame on you fool me twice shame on me?  Lets look at the Cavs yes they have the best player in the league Lebron, but look at the supporting cast.   Besides Lebron, who would you take in a one on one matcup between Cavs and Celts, over 48 minutes.  No one,  unless you give lebrons supporting cast open shots they have a difficult time creating there own shot.  If shaq was 5 years younger it would have been a different series, but he cant go 35 minutes a game any longer.  If you want to place fault here why has no one mentioned danny ferry, the gm, here is the moron who signed shaq for 20 mill, and failed to give lebron some support.  Imagine if Lebron was on Atlanta, Boston, Lakers, Utah, Oklahoma, any of the other playoff teams, i gurantee you he would be still in the playoffs.  Why do you think Cleveland is so worried about loosing lebron?  Because without him your looking at next years NJ nets.

Since: May 15, 2010
Posted on: May 15, 2010 3:25 pm

How the Celtics did in Mike Brown

Very intuitive....this analysis also points out that it takes more than sheer athleticism to win, intellect, basketball talent, and teamwork are als
o major factors....

..........and, in this opinion, Lebron's flaws were exploited.....true Superstars make everyone around them better players, Lebron's truly a gifted ath-a-lete and physical specimen, but he's not the type of player to make everyone around him better. He draws double and triple coverage, sure, but that doesn't elevate his teamate's play......the simple fact is; the Cavs just weren't good enough.....and Lebron's elbow woes just made it worse. Obviously, not having Shaq, Antawn and King James working as a unit together with Mo Williams and Parker prior to the Playoffs also was fatal....

...a secondary opinion; Lebron, stay home, help Cleveland get their isn't've got your fame....good luck

Since: Feb 28, 2009
Posted on: May 15, 2010 2:52 pm

How the Celtics did in Mike Brown (UPDATE)

Great insight.  It's obvious Brown has been in over his head for the past few seasons.  The important question for Lebron and Cavs fans is would a better coach had made a difference?  That is, would a coaching change make the Cavs a legitimate threat to make a playoff run?  If so, there's a small chance Lebron could stay.  If not, hello Chicago.

My (sad) opinion is regardless of who coached this team, they didn't have what it takes.  Next year is worse  They have no center.  Their point guard can't guard me, and they have no room to sign anyone of note.  If Lebron has any sense at all, he'll bolt that cursed sports town and I and my fellow Cleveland fans will go on with our lives, pausing every now and then and lamenting that not even the Chosen One could bring us a title.

Since: Aug 23, 2006
Posted on: May 15, 2010 1:23 pm

How the Celtics did in Mike Brown (UPDATE)

Great article; one of the few I have read that shows true understanding of the game of basketball and the dynamics of team sports in general. One piece is missing, however: strategies, coaching moves, and x's and o's only take a team half way to winning. The other half is that the players must outplay the guys on the other team. John Wooden's offense doesn't score when guys miss shots and Jerry Tarkanian's defense doesn't stop teams from scoring if his defenders aren't long and quick. When James shoots 3 for 14, there is nobody to blame but the king himself. Doc Rivers found teh weaknesses in the Cavs but he didn't create them. To blame or fire Brown is ridiculous.

Since: Feb 1, 2010
Posted on: May 15, 2010 12:15 pm

How the Celtics did in Mike Brown (UPDATE)

I'm a James fan so it's hard being critical, but you cannot look at a triple double and assume that a player had a great game. There are other stats to consider, turnovers being the most important. He also had a low shooting percentage which tells you that he took several shots and missed a lot more than he made.

Since: Nov 12, 2009
Posted on: May 15, 2010 9:28 am

How the Celtics did in Mike Brown (UPDATE)

The ONLY reason the Cavs lost to Boston is LBJ? You are a moron, so you are saying if he didnt play at all they would have won since he is the only reason they lost? wow this is a topper. He had 27 points 19 rebounds and 10 assists but I suppose if he didnt play the probably would have won hunh? He had one bad game I suppose they win game 3 without him to right? IT SHOULD READ THE REASON THE CAVS WIN ANY PLAYOFF GAMES OR REGULAR SEASON GAMES FOR THAT MATTER IS BECAUSE OF JAMES.

Since: Sep 10, 2007
Posted on: May 15, 2010 2:11 am

How the Celtics did in Mike Brown (UPDATE)

There is some good insight here, but one thing you forgot to mention, and it is the biggest factor, is LeBron's elbow.  LeBron is not an excuses kind of player, so he didn't say so, but his elbow is the reason the Celtics won this series.  Look at the facts.  With some rest between the Bulls series and game one against Boston, LeBron got his elbow healthy enough to play well and win that one.  Game 2, shorter rest, Celtics win.  4 days off, LeBron explodes in game 3.  Short rest the rest of the way and you have a Celtic victory.  In hindsight the Cavs would've been better served to rest LeBron in game 4 (unheard of in the playoffs, but should've been done with this type of injury) and had him ready for game 5.  When your best player is injured, you're not going to play well, just ask the Celtics who were injury-riddled all year, but got healthy just in time.

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