For better or worse, NBA coaches take the brunt of losses while players get the recognition for wins. Case in point would be the most recent two games for the Cleveland Cavaliers against the Boston Celtics. When the Cavs won handsomely, they had intensity, played like the team they are and were aggressive.
When the Cavs lost thanks to an awful fourth quarter an all around lack of effort on the glass, Mike Brown’s rotations were questioned. Whether it is focused on Shaquille O’Neal, Anthony Parker, Jamario Moon or any other player wearing a Cleveland jersey, a tick in the “L” column tends to draw questions.
Brown’s ability to make decisions in-game has always been suspect. Often times, third quarters are flooded with flat play by the Cavaliers, allowing teams to get back into games in which they should have originally had nary a shot at even competing. Brown often speaks of his “plans,” while casually saying that they are open for change. But also occurring often is little deviation from the original plan, save for a few decisions not to make a move because what is going on at present time is actually working a lot better than expected. How much credit can a coach expect if a lineup-by-default leads to a 15-0 run?
All fair points. Possibly.
Brown started coaching at the age of 35. Prior to becoming a head coach with the Cavaliers, he had not been a head coach at any level. In-game adjustents are admittedly not his strong suit, especially compared to coaches that have played in the NBA. But where Brown fails to get a lot of credit is between games. When he has the chance to get his team on the court in a practice environment, for whatever the reason may be, the Cavaliers have the tendency to come out firing on all cylinders.
Keep these statistics in mind:
On zero days rest through the 2009-10 season, the Cavaliers shot 47.7 percent from the floor, pulled down 40.9 rebounds per game and averaged 101.1 points. After one day of rest (and/or practice), Cleveland upped their field goal shooting to 48.5 percent, their rebounds to 43.4 per game, and their point average to 101.9. After two days of rest and/or practice, the shooting jumps to 50.1 percent with the points per game clocking in at 104.7.
Naturally, this progression should be seen in all teams due to fatigue, travel and things of the like. But with Mike Brown and his Cavaliers, this progression is also due to the ability to adjust play in between games.
When the 2009-10 season started, Brown had several new players with which to work into his daily rotation. Former starters would be coming off of the bench, but for how many minutes? Delonte West had missed the bulk of the preseason, so Anthony Parker was Cleveland’s starting shooting guard. The Lakers ran with two would-be centers, so Brown gave everyone a dash of the “Twin Towers.” When the first two games of the season were complete, the Cavaliers stood at 0-2 after the back-to-back set. Naturally, some panic set in.
But then Cleveland would then get three of the next five days off (in terms of gamedays), and proceeded to win eight of their subsequent nine games. And while some stretches of Cavalier success would be against weaker competition, this slate of nine games featured wins over Charlotte, Orlando, Utah and Miami – all teams that would later make the postseason.
December would see the Cavs go 14-3. The month of January saw the team go 12-3. February saw some more turbulence thanks to injuries and a trade that sent Zydrunas Ilgauskas to Washington for Antawn Jamison.
Following the All-Star break, the Cavaliers lost three straight games. Two were in back-to-back games with the third on the road in Orlando. Recall Jamison’s first game that saw him go 0-for-12 from the floor. The one that was supposed to be the missing link didn’t exactly fit in on the first try. Thankfully, Brown would have two of the next four days off to work his new power forward into the mix by drawing up plays specifically designed to utilize the “stretch” four’s skill set.
In our piece – one of many at the time to use the word “ledge” – regarding the losing streak, TD waxed poetically.
Do not forget how the team struggled early on under these same set of circumstances with Shaq, Anthony Parker, and Moon. It’s up to Mike Brown to figure out a shortened rotation and go with it.
The result? The Cavs would win 14 of their next 15 games, seven of which would feature AntawnJamison as the team leader in either scoring or rebounds. The newly acquired forward would go on to average 16 points and eight rebounds over the entire season with his new team.
And though they are still fresh thoughts, it does not hurt to consider the most recent postseason contests. The Cavaliers looked completely overmatched on the road against Derrick Rose and the Chicago Bulls. Getting a day to regroup – with many thanks going to the NBA’s playoff schedule – Mike Brown was able to draw in some adjustments between games three and four. The result was a 23-point dismantling of the Chicago team that would set the tone for the remainder of the series.
After playing at their worst level of intensity at what would be the worst possible timing in Game Two against the Celtics, Brown utilized most of his three-day break to get his team back to the level needed. What was supposed to be a day off for the Wine and Gold was a practice session that was complete with film study and five-on-five work. The very next contest saw the Cavaliers hand the Celtics their worst playoff loss in the history of the franchise.
By no means should this be considered a fool-proof plan of success. Some of the best coaches to ever grace the game earned their praise for what they were able to do in-game. For better or worse, Brown’s strengths rely on what he is able to do between games. The Cavaliers held a practice at Cleveland Clinic Courts on Monday afternoon; they are also one of the remaining teams that utilize the morning shootaround on the day of games.
While the issue currently at hand may appear to be different than those above – after all, there are no longer new pieces being added to the roster – it is still Mike Brown attempting to find answers within his roster. He has one of the deepest benches in the league, but somehow chooses to adjust between games rather than during.
What Brown was able to do over the last 36 hours remains to be seen. Will the team see more Shaquille O’Neal? If he can stay out of foul trouble, this would be a safe assumption. Who will guard Rajon Rondo? Likely a variety of players, as it has been through the series. Remember, Rondo was only 9-of-21 from the floor in Game Four - the half-cour defense was working. The team was simply out-hustled in every other sense of the game.
Nevertheless, it is during these breaks where Mike Brown manages to swim when others see nothing but sinking. Come tonight at 8pm, Cleveland fans will find out just what changes the former Coach of the Year was able to implement this time around.
(Photo by Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty Images)