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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 23, 2007
Posted on: May 15, 2010 1:49 am

How the Celtics did in Mike Brown (UPDATE)

Even though Cleveland had the best regular season, I think a lot of people underestminated the Celtics, saying Cleveland should have won.

Boston has a lot of older players, e.g., the 3 amigos. You have to pace these guys during the regular season and try to keep them healthy for the playoffs.  And then they go all out. Plus there is a lot of playoff experience witht those guys. And Boston played as a team. Rondo now has enough years where he is taking his game to another level and is truly becoming a great point guard. With Big Baby and Rasheed, they have the frontcourt depth as well.

I agree with the poster who said that it's very difficult to build a team concept when all the focus is on one guy making the plays, no matter how good he is. Teams win championships, not one player with a supporting cast. Jordan didn't win anything until he bought into the team concept and was fortunate to have some great players with him.

Since: Mar 29, 2009
Posted on: May 15, 2010 12:47 am
This comment has been removed.

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Since: Dec 16, 2008
Posted on: May 14, 2010 11:01 pm

How the Celtics did in Mike Brown (UPDATE)

Its not his fault...the guy has been in over his head from day one. LBJ made a big mistake by wanting him as the coach. I believe thats accurate. Brown relied on James being the coach, and he showed that he couldn't make adjustments..The coaching issues showed when they made the Finals against the Spurs.

When you have One Dimensional guys like Mo Williams you need a complete coach to win a Championship. They need to build a winner and not buy one.

Since: Jan 2, 2007
Posted on: May 14, 2010 10:54 pm

How the Celtics did in Mike Brown (UPDATE)

This was actually a good article, but there is only one reason why the Cavs lost to Boston and not to the Lakers.  The reason is LBJ because as a forward, he thinks that he is a point guard or should I say point-forward.  LBJ has the ball in his hands about 90% of every game.  He has a team that is waiting on him to shoot the ball all the time but as we seen in Philly with Iverson, the star can score 60 points a game and win a MVP Award but still loose the game.  All the teams that center their success and/or championship titles on one person and not a team of people will always be defeated.  It is not only the Cavs, but also Dallas(Dirk), Thunder(Durant), Suns, Bulls, Miami.

Since: May 18, 2009
Posted on: May 14, 2010 10:51 pm

How the Celtics did in Mike Brown (UPDATE)

We are going to take a long, deep, hard look at every key position


Since: Feb 19, 2007
Posted on: May 14, 2010 10:48 pm

How the Celtics did in Mike Brown (UPDATE)

Awesome blog.  Add more details and make a killer column out of it?  Maybe?

Since: Aug 27, 2006
Posted on: May 14, 2010 9:48 pm

How the Celtics did in Mike Brown

Actually this is the third time it's happened in this year's playoffs. Carlisle was just as confused when his Mavs where playing the Spurs and McMillan was atrocious with the Blazers vs. the Suns. It simply was another case of equal teams in all 3 series being decided by terrible coaching. Each were 6-game series and none of them appeared close.

Since: Jan 4, 2009
Posted on: May 14, 2010 9:32 pm

How the Celtics did in Mike Brown

dunno i feel like lebron needing so much ball time really detracts from antawn jamison's usefulness. And really, how about shaq showing up?!!? I really didn't think the old man had enough left in him, but he proves time and time again that despite his age and his giant mouth, he's got a true champion's fighting spirit (now, if only someone could implant that into lebron).

Since: Mar 4, 2008
Posted on: May 14, 2010 9:26 pm

How the Celtics did in Mike Brown

Couldn't say it any better
I agree

Since: Dec 18, 2008
Posted on: May 14, 2010 9:18 pm

How the Celtics did in Mike Brown

It seemed to me that the Cavs started to lack confidence because their coach was lacking confidence.  Lebron isn't 100% for sure, but they still should have won that series.  Jamison only scoring 5 points in game six?  Someone sit his ass down.  I think brown has to go.  He should have forseen these challenges and managed them.

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