July 28, 2014

What did Mike Brown do for you?

mike-brown-203x300As the gold confetti fell from the rafters and “Cleveland Rocks” blared, once again, from the Quicken Loans Arena sound system, Cleveland Cavaliers head coach Mike Brown stood proudly on the sideline as his players, one by one, came off of the floor with their first win in what stands to be season of questions which will slowly be answered as the calendar turns to 2014. It was a typical Mike Brown game in that it featured a second-half sputter on the offensive end, but would be countered by defense and timely rebounding efforts which ultimately willed an inexperienced team to victory over a team many have pegged to be one of the final few teams to represent the Eastern Conference this coming spring.

The final outcome was undoubtedly aided by a near triple-double from star point guard Kyrie Irving, even when his shot was not falling at an efficient rate; Tristan Thompson, Irving’s fellow third-year comrade, quietly led the team in scoring; a surprising and crowd-igniting appearance by free agent center Andrew Bynum understandably drew headlines. It could also be said that it would be Brown who would have felt the brunt of the narrative had the Cavaliers dropped what was a 10-point lead in the waning seconds of the third quarter—it didn’t help matters that the Cavs, led by Irving, were pressing at times, dribbling and standing and hoisting more than moving and passing. But the concerns, for at least one game, were all for naught as the Wine and Gold would manage to prove victorious in a game that Brown described as “gritty, grimy and ugly.”

Ugly in the way that his team, fresh off of roof-raising introduction that featured crowd interaction fueled by the hopes and energy that surround post-season expectations, crawled out of the gate, allowing the Brooklyn Nets to amass a 10-2 lead before fans even knew what hit them. Wasting no time, Brown cashed in one of his timeouts, hit the proverbial reset button, and reaffirmed his expectations. Not ignorant to the star power which stood across from his players, Brown, win or lose, demanded consistency; he demanded 48 minutes of hard-fought basketball.

“It wasn’t pretty,” Brown said of the night’s festivities. “It wasn’t pretty at all…and I’m OK with that.”

But just as the game could have been classified as “typical” from the Mike Brown spectrum, fans were also greeted with a the new version of the head coach which they have heard so much about since being reintroduced this past summer. Certainly, Brown’s résumé has it’s warts—after all, he still doesn’t have a title attached to his name. But there were subtleties, small idiosyncrasies which showed the progress had not just by the young players littering the roster, but by the man pulling all of the strings. Brown was willing to pull Dion Waiters from the game after a bad pass led to a turnover. Smoke no longer billows from his ears like a papal conclave when Anderson Varejao takes a jump shot. He stuck with Earl Clark in the final minutes of a close game despite the fact that he looked lost at times and had been abused by Brooklyn’s Paul Pierce earlier in the game. It would be these moves which would allow Waiters to hit a 19-foot jumper from the top of the key; it endorsed  Varejao to confidently sink a 14-footer; and it provided the time needed for Clark to pull down the offensive rebound which subsequently led to the floppy-haired center becoming the late-game hero.

There was a point late in the contest, just over one minute remaining, where Pierce hit a three-point shot to bring the Nets within two. Thompson, a minute away from sealing one of his best games as a young professional, was called for an offensive foul as Brooklyn’s Jason Terry ricocheted off of Thompson and fell to the floor as if he were the victim of a Loudville sniper. A Brook Lopez lay-in knotted things up as the game clocked turned from minutes to seconds. Things could have unraveled from there—the Cavaliers, underdogs, could have easily folded up their tents and set their sights on Game 2. But they didn’t.  When I asked Brown of the very sequence, the coach

“We talked about it in [the locker room],” Brown said of the game’s final minute. “There were many times through the course of that fourth quarter where we could have folded. Literally, when we folded, we could have all said ‘Hey, we played hard, we gave it our all. You know what, they’re a better team than us, they’re more veteran than us, they’ve got seven All-Stars…” You can have gone on down the line and done that any time. Some of the guys in the locker room, because they don’t know, might have felt all right about it. But that didn’t happen at all; they just kept fighting and fighting. That’s what I like.”

It may be a bit premature to crown Brown as an MVP of any kind. But in a day in age where last-place teams with undeniable talent—the Boston Red Sox, the Kansas City Chiefs—can turn things around with a change at the top of the pecking order, a head coach who demands more, requires accountability and manages to bring out the best in his players even in the event they be overmatched by a litany of future Hall of Famers.  A head coach who can yank a player one year removed from being a lottery selection, have a heated conversation with him in front of the public eye (Waiters would later refer to the discussion a “motivating”), and then redeploy him into a moment of heroics. A head coach who can trust that his wiry big man, who once took one of the worst clutch-time shots in NBA Finals history, can be counted on when needed. A head coach who can trust that his free agent small forward can shake off the first-game jitters when needed, adding possessions when they’re needed the most.

“The fight and the belief was there the whole time,” Brown said. “And that’s a good thing.”

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Whoa easy now Scott it was after all just one game but at least you mentioned the Boston Red Sox, the World Champion Boston Red Sox that is! Be like Johnny Gomes and talk playoffs, believe, but remember a lot of work needs to be done.

    That aside Brown looks a lot different the second time around. I think the second youngest team in the NBA is exactly what he needed but it’ll be interesting to see how things play out. Everyone is loving the “newness” and certainly a win on opening night against what will be a very good Nets team but lets see how things stand after another 30-40 games. When the newness has worn off, when back to back games in different cities, when nagging wounds and bruises and possibly injuries happen. Lets see how the second youngest team in the NBA reacts and plays. Until then enjoy being 1-0 but keep some perspective.

  • http://www.centsports.com/?opcode=487541 c3j1v62

    cavs = championship 2014 book it!

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Seems to be the year they’ve been building towards for the last three years. If they can bring in that one star who can score making it easier for the nicely assembled young bunch of supporting players I absolutely believe it’s possible.

  • Hart Crane

    Too much Kyrie Irving dribbling the ball in the waning moments of the game, which is eerily similar to Mike Brown teams of year’s past. Defense wins championships in all four of the major sports, including basketball, but in the last two minutes offensive execution becomes paramount. Phil Jackson, Greg Popovich and other top tier coaches are able to get their teams critical points out of timeouts and devise innovative quality plays in clutch situations. I’m all for emphasizing defense, but not at the expense of offense. Last night was a great win, but if our best play in the last two minutes is having Kyrie dribble around a bunch then we are in trouble deep.

  • http://www.waitingfornextyear.com/ Scott @ WFNY

    Mentioned the Sox only due to the worst-to-first turnaround. By no means do I think this Cavaliers team will amount to anything near that—I did predict just 42 wins. That said, going from 24 to 42 wins is absolutely huge. Some of this can be attributed to growth and health, but some can also be attributed to philosophy and coaching.

    Pointing out the latter is undoubtely worthwhile. Perspective is definitely intact.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    I’m still geeked man when’s the parade? But as far as the champs go it’s so much more then worst to first which makes it all that more sweeter.

    The natural relation is to the Indians of course but I guess you could apply it to the Cavaliers in some way as well. Grant deserves all the credit as you say I think this season will be a dramatic turnaround but just like the Indians the Cavaliers will need to do more. It should, at the minimum, be an enjoyable ride. The Indians gave Cleveland a great ride and the Cavaliers are off to a great start. The Browns are still about what I had them pegged as but well lets see how the rest of the season goes first.

    As for the perspective I meant that towards the readers/fans not you.

  • Harv 21

    I loved that the late bogus foul call on Thompson had seemingly no effect on the team psyche. Burgeoning mental toughness?

    Also amazed at how much Brook Lopez whines at the refs – like every time he shoots and misses or is called for a foul. Dude, your size and skills made Andy look like a high schooler trying to guard you. Just shut up and play.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    That was a terrible call I mean I could kind of see where Thompson put his booty out a tad but to call him for an offensive foul for it was crazy. Especially when KG was on the floor in the same game. As for Lopez whining, they all do it, entirely to much these days that’s why they needed to emphasize the gesturing and all the rest as technical fouls.

  • turnercr

    Agreed completely about Lopez. What a whiner. I think he’s worse than Pierce and Garnett, and I never thought that was possible

  • TNB

    I think your Sox reference isn’t a good one for the point you’re trying to make. The sox unloaded some of the largest contracts in baseball, and then went out and signed something like 8 different free agents instead. The cavs have, in large part, built this team from the ground up themselves, but this is just me being nitpicky about my “poor Boston” bias =)

    That being said, good points all around. I wasn’t a fan of letting go of Scott, not gonna lie, and even though I’m only a casual basketball fan at best, I think this game showed that they can at least hang with the teams that they need to for a shot at contending.

  • turnercr

    Then wouldn’t a Cleveland Indians comparison be more apt? We had a huge win turnaround with Francona this year and made the playoffs but didn’t reach the heights of the BoSox. If we win 42-46 and make a low seed playoff spot I’d say a Tribe comparison is much more appropriate than the Sox as Shamrock said, they are the champs.

  • turnercr

    Ah didn’t see this my friend. Sorry I kinda stole your point

  • turnercr

    I think he meant this year as the Finals will be in May ’14. But I’m inclined to agree with you. Next season could be an amazing one

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Oh no I can say this out loud now but Paul Pierce is the worst. I can’t wait until the Nets play the Heat in large part so that LeBron can face Pierce watch PP put on his tough guy/whiney act.

  • turnercr

    I’ve loathed Paul Pierce as long as I can remember because of this. That kind of crap ruins the game if you ask me. There is entirely too much whining and complaining in the game for me. They’re lucky I’m not a ref because I’d T guys up all the time

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    I’ll always remember him being taken off the floor in a wheelchair only to return and play a few minutes later. When he flops I yell “Get ‘em a stretcher!”

  • http://www.waitingfornextyear.com Andrew Schnitkey

    That was one of the all time great flops in NBA history.

  • http://www.waitingfornextyear.com Andrew Schnitkey

    I just in general felt relief at having Mike Brown back. Watching that effort and consistency on defense was everything I loved about MB as a coach. The defense won’t always be this good. They will have more than their fair share of nights where the defense isn’t working. But for one night, to have this kind of showing on defense, it serves as a nice validation of MB’s system and will make it easier to keep the players buying into it.

  • woofersus

    Pierce should have played soccer. I can’t remember how many times I’ve seen him writhing on the floor in pain, having to be helped off the court unable to put any weight on one of his ankles, and then 5 minutes later he’s back to normal, without even having it taped up.

  • woofersus

    I’ve had warm fuzzy feelings about Brown all through preseason. I’m not entirely sure everything that went wrong last year was Byron Scott’s fault, and the talent level is significantly higher for Brown, but one thing is clear: Brown is good at teaching defense and Scott isn’t. Teaching in general is something you see a lot of with Brown, and in a much more confident way than when he left. When the Brown hiring was announced I wasn’t completely sold on the idea. (I was a proponent of Shaw) I understood why he made sense and wasn’t opposed, though. But as soon as he got started it became clear that he’s been a successful coach for more reasons than just talent, and that we’ve got the best version of him yet. No he’s not the greatest offensive mind in the game, but I don’t think he’ll get in the way too much either. Brooklyn played very good defense last night, especially on the perimeter. Kyrie isn’t easy to bottle up like that. Also, it’s obvious they haven’t spent much time on that phase of the game yet. It’s all defense all the time for now, and the offense will come later.

  • Harv 21

    i remember that – hilarious. But also remember the playoff series against the Cavs where he played as passionately as MJ and wouldn’t lose. Probably love him and his dramatics if he plays for your team.