A Daily Babble Production
If we've got one qualifier here this week, it's that we're looking for folks firmly planted on the James Posey bandwagon. Little did we know, we would find one behind enemy lines: Cavalier Attitude's Amar Panchmatia. In addition to being one of the first writers to advise me upon my entrance into the Internet sports writing field (quite harshly, at first, I might add), Amar is also one of the most fiery and insightful bloggers on the 'Net. The man sure loves his Cavs, but for all his occasional harshness (see: Larry Hughes comments below), he is as thoughtful as writers come, and it was my pleasure to spend a few minutes chatting with him between games 1 and 2 regarding our respectively beloved basketball teams. Amar and I took turns grilling each other on what looks to be a grueling series between the Cavs and C's. His answers are below; mine are over at CA. Away we go...SW: So we've heard it too many times to count now: LeBron James took 18 shots on Tuesday and missed 16 of them. What was the biggest reason why? Was the Celts' defense that good, or was it just a poor night for your boy?
AP: You can't undercut Boston's defense, but he's faced this same defense before three times this year (he missed one of the four games between the two teams this season) and averaged 32.3 points, 7.0 rebounds and 9.7 assists. As stellar as the Celtics' defense has been all year, LeBron faced two defenses at least just as good, if not better, last postseason in Detroit and San Antonio. Two-for-18 is a little too far below LB's standards - he's had off-nights before, but Game 1 was a little too alarming.
The good news for the Cavaliers is that he started slow in the first two games of last year's Eastern Conference Finals against the Pistons. He only scored 10 points on 5-for-15 shooting in a 79-76 Game 1 loss at the Palace in May of '07 that was eerily similar to Tuesday's 76-72 loss at the Garden. The Cavs lost Game 2 by a similar score as LeBron improved to 19 points but on just 7-for-19 shooting.
If you're any kind of an NBA fan, you know what happened in that series from that point on, especially in that epic Game 5 at the Palace. The moral of the story? Over the course of a long seven-game series, LeBron James will figure it out eventually. It might take him a game. It might take him two. But eventually, he'll know everything a team can throw at him and know exactly how to make adjustments to counter that.
And nothing the opposition can do from that point onwards can stop him.
SW: Regardless of where the credit or blame lies for Bron's Game 1 performance, one would be hard-pressed to dispute that he wasn't getting great looks at the bucket one way or the other. What do the Cavaliers need to do as a team in order to free up LeBron for better looks offensively?
AP: Shooting, shooting and more shooting. That's why GM Danny Ferry brought in guns like Wally Szczerbiak and Delonte West - to create spacing for LeBron. The Celtics' low post defense has been extraordinary all year long - anchored by your man and DPoY Kevin Garnett - so creating spacing in this series will be more crucial than usual for the Cavs. Daniel Gibson was a playoff hero last season and averaged double-figure scoring in his sophomore season, so he'll have to step up again in this series. Szczerbiak looked like he's coming around with that 26-point effort in Game 6 against Washington, so he'll have to keep it up throughout this series.
That's not going to guarantee that LeBron goes off, of course, as there are no guarantees in this series since Rasheed Wallace doesn't play for either club. But even Ferry said it himself: When you have a guy like LeBron, it is important that you surround him with shooters. If those shooters - at least one of them - don't step up in this series, it's going to be over quickly for the Cavs, no matter how much LeBron improves on his dreadful Game 1 performance.
SW: As I mentioned in my series preview earlier in the week, it's natural for the fans on this site to have some questions about any team whose starting lineup boasts the presence of two prominent members of the 2006-07 Celtics team that won all of 24 games. What have your impressions of Delonte West (a huge fan favorite in Boston in seasons past) and Wally Szczerbiak been thus far?
AP: Delonte West has been absolutely terrific - even to a point where many Cavs fans believe that he might be the long-term answer for the Cavs' point guard struggles. Our guy Smooth here at Cavalier Attitude wrote a great piece on West during the first-round series, and I think that has to echo the sentiments of most Cavs fans when it comes to the point guard. When you have a guy like LeBron, you don't need a Chris Paul, Deron Williams, Steve Nash or Jason Kidd handling the point. West does what the Cavs need: he provides perimeter scoring, has a good ability to handle the rock, creates opportunities for others, and respects the defensive side of the ball.
What have point guards that came before West in Cleveland provided? Eric Snow was a complete offensive liability - the guy couldn't hit the side of a garage door with a beach ball even if given 100 opportunities. Damon Jones was a human turnstile on defense. Daniel Gibson was the closest thing to being "the guy," but he's more of an undersized shooting guard with limited to no handles rather than a point guard. West has been a good blend of what those three guys have to offer, and his plus-11.29 efficiency during these playoffs shows that he has what it takes to be a strong contributor to a contending team.
Szczerbiak? The guy has been an underachiever for a large part of his career, whether you want to blame his injuries or not. The guy was an All-Star back in his third season of 2001-02, which is more than you can say about a lot of guys on this Cavaliers roster. But those shots have to start falling for him to contribute the way Ferry and head coach Mike Brown want him to. Those 8.2 points per game along with shooting 35.9 percent from the field and 36.5 percent from downtown in 25 regular season games with the Cavs didn't help. Like I said earlier, though, Game 6 against Washington was a ray of hope, and that has to be the norm for Szczerbiak rather than the exception if he wants to have any legitimate future with this team.
If not, then we are slowly moving towards "Wally Szczerbiak's Expiring Contract" status. Over $13 million off the books in '09 - maybe this guy can contribute in some way, shape or form after all. But for now, I'd rather have it be in the playoffs and not just as a gigantic expiring contract.
SW: Speaking of the multi-team blockbuster trade that brought the former Celts to Cleveland, you were a long-time detractor of Larry Hughes, who you enjoyed calling Laura from time to time at Cavalier Attitude. Was getting rid of LH worth bringing in Ben Wallace? What are your feelings about Big Ben as a Cav?
AP: You mean I might have accidentally referred to Laura as "Larry" from time to time? The girl was an absolute waste of space - don't know if you heard about this or not, but after the trade with Chicago, Laura was quoted as saying that she just "enjoys playing basketball." Championships don't matter - she just enjoys doing what she loves for a living and getting paid for it. Now, there may not be anything wrong with that, but I can't believe Ferry was duped into giving close to the freaking max to a gal like this (wait - maybe I can believe that). A clown like Laura has no business being on a team that wants to be a championship team before LeBron has a chance to bolt elsewhere.
Ben Wallace, on the other hand, certainly isn't what he used to be. However, don't read too much into stats when measuring Big Ben's impact on the Cavs. Before Big Ben, Drew Gooden played power forward. The visions of "crisp defensive rotations" and "solid low post presence" were only seen in dreams for Cavs fans. Now, they're a reality. Wallace isn't going to go out there and rip down 25 boards and block five to six shots every night, but you'll know about his presence. He's still an upper-echelon defender, and how he is able to man up against KG is going to be pivotal in determining the outcome of this series.
SW: Which lesser-known Cav should we have our eyes on as a possible difference-maker in this series? Why?
AP: I don't know if you can still call him a "lesser-known" Cav after last year's postseason, but the answer's definitely Daniel Gibson. If he makes the same kind of impact in this series as he did in the ECFs against Detroit last spring, Cleveland will catch momentum very quickly. Gibson's shooting was absolutely essential in dropping a more-talented Pistons team in the playoffs last year. Far be it for me to say that this Celtics squad isn't more talented than the Cavs, because it is. But Gibson's ability to come in and be that dependable second scorer and three-point assassin is going to be huge for the Cavs.
SW: In your set of questions for me, you asked about which defensive coach I would rather have. I'm framing it differently: Which oft-maligned coach would you rather have – Doc Rivers or Mike Brown?
AP: Mike Brown, and I'm not being a homer. I've been on Brown's case many times during the season. I'm not as down on him as many other Cavs fans are, but my assessment of Brown compared to his peers would definitely have to be "above average." Rivers has been fortunate enough to catch lightning in a bottle and coach three superstars who are hungry for a title. But in the end, we're still talking about a coach who lost 58 games last year. Mike Brown has never lost 58 games in a year.
Of course, the overwhelming response to that last statement would be "Mike Brown has LeBron James!" Well, look at it this way: Paul Silas also had LeBron James. Brendan Malone also had LeBron James. Neither coach was able to lead the Cavs to the playoffs. Not only has Brown led the Cavs to the playoffs in each of his three seasons, he won 50 games in each of his first two campaigns. The Cavs were a terrible defensive team before Brown's hire. Now, they are among the best in each and every defensive category, including the fact that they're one of the elite rebounding teams in the L in each of Brown's three seasons. [SW: So there is someone out there besides Scoop Jackson who calls it the L, huh?]
Although he has done a poor job in maximizing James' talents on the offensive side of the ball, the Cavs defense has been nothing short of consistent under Brown's watch. And that's why he was hired. The Cavs knew he was a defensive specialist. They knew he was no Mike D'Antoni or Rick Adelman. He has given the Cavs what he was hired for: a top-level NBA defense. That may not be enough to be one of the best coaches in the league, but it's certainly enough to be better than Doc Rivers.
SW: What Cleveland weakness should the Celtics should be looking to exploit the most?
AP: Eh...sure you aren't going to send this to Rivers? Lord knows he could use the help - just kidding.
The Celtics should look to make the Cavs into a jump-shooting team. Take away Zydrunas Ilgauskas' presence on the low block. Take it away completely. Big Z's 22-point, 12-board performance in Game 1 isn't a good sign for the C's.
Here's the biggest key: force LeBron to settle for jump shots. If he's taking more jump shots than drives to the cup, he's not the same LeBron. LB isn't on many highlight films because of his ability to be the next Reggie Miller. Force guys like Gibson, Szczerbiak, and West to beat you from the perimeter. If they do, then so be it. But make the Cavs earn it. If you watch that Game 5 of last year's East Final against Detroit, the Pistons let James walk all over them. He was driving and dunking almost at will. Sure, he was feeling it from outside, but those drives to the hole only elevated his confidence. Take that away from him, and you're going to see more games closer to that Game 1 than last year's Game 5.
Of course, if it was so easy, then LeBron wouldn't have won the scoring title this year. And I'm not going to hold my breath for Doc Rivers of all people to come up with a plan to stop LeBron.
SW: The Cavs are a season removed from 50 wins and a run to the Finals. What has to happen in this series and for the playoffs beyond that for the season to be considered a success? How do you judge this season if they lose this series?
AP: For this season to be a success, they have to show that they built on last year's Finals run. That means beating the Celtics in this series is absolutely crucial. Last year's run may have been a fluke by some measures because of how soft the Cavs' postseason schedule was - the injured Wizards and the Nets. Getting by Boston and falling to Detroit at the very least would be considered "building on last year's success" in my book.
Lose to Boston, and you truly expose just how much the rest of the East has passed the Cavs. The last thing you want if you're associated with the Cavs is that feeling of being a "has-been" despite having a cornerstone player who is just 23-years old. The fact that owner Dan Gilbert took on more salary and a hit on the luxury tax as a result of February's three-team, 11-player trade also increases the stakes that the Cavs have in this series. So lose to Boston, and you not only underachieve this season, but you also prove that last season was a gigantic fluke.
Beat Boston, and you send a message that's loud and clear to the rest of the East: as long as LeBron James is on our side, you can make all the big-time trades to acquire all the big-name players you want. But you're not beating us for the next decade. And we're sorry for you if you think you can.
SW: Always have to ask one to get the fan bases riled up: Which bench favorite would you rather have, Anderson Varejao or James Posey?
AP: Wow - good one, Steve. But after Anderson's messy contract holdout last offseason and his stated desire to leave the Cavs (as well as the stupid two-year contract offer he made Charlotte sign him to before the Cavs matched it), I don't know if Varejao is a favorite of mine anymore. He's still the very definition of an energizer, but apparently he thinks he's the next Kevin Garnett after hearing his contract demands last summer.
The Cavs were one of the teams vying for Posey's services last offseason, and I was sad when he decided to sign with Boston over Cleveland. I really wanted Posey on the Cavs side, and as far as I'm concerned, I'd rather have him than Varejao. The veteran presence, defensive tenacity, and ability to take the big shots is something Cleveland needs badly right now. At least more than a contract holdout from a guy who thinks he's better than he is.
SW: Got a score prediction for tonight's game and a pick for this series?
AP: You know I gotta rep C-town in this one: 80-77 in Game 2 and 4-2 in favor of the Cavs for the series.
It's always a blast to chat with Amar, and perhaps we'll even let him slide on his series prediction thanks to his Posey love. Thanks again for the time, sir, and here's hoping for a green win in Game 2.