Wednesday, May 12, 2010
LeBron James MVP????? Are We Sure?
All the different articles on Lebron's failure to play like an mvp
1. LeBron's Farewell Game In Cleveland?
By Chris Sheridan
CLEVELAND -- It was exactly 11:43 p.m. when LeBron James, wearing a cream-colored sweater and sneakers, walked through the exit door next to the loading dock and strode to his car for what may have been his final drive home from the place he has called home for seven years.
What you couldn't get a reading on was how James was feeling in his soul, the soul that he tried to claim had not been damaged by the ringing in his ears caused by the boos during Cleveland's 120-88 drubbing at the hands of the Boston Celtics -- boos unlike anything James had ever heard before in Cleveland.
If this was his last home game here, that's what they sent him off with.
"I spoil a lot of people with my play," James said in one of the few borderline candid comments he made in his postgame interview. "When you have a bad game here or there, you've had three bad games in a seven-year career, then it's easy to point that out. So you got to be better.
"I put a lot of pressure on myself to be out there and be the best player on the court, and when I'm not I feel bad for myself because I'm not going out there and doing the things I can do. But I don't hang my head low or make any excuses about anything that may be going on, because that's not the type of player or person I am."
He wasn't making excuses, but he also wasn't providing much in the way of an insightful explanation for a 3-for-14 shooting night on which he seemed tentative, hesitant, de-energized, confused and oh, so human.
As this game started getting away from the Cavs late in the first half and early in the third quarter, you kept waiting for the moment when James would begin to assert himself and start playing like not only the MVP, but like the man who supposedly is on a far broader mission to bring a title to this snakebitten city that hasn't won a championship in any major professional sport since 1964.
But every time James brought the ball over the midcourt line, two defenders started to converge on him and he gave it up.
When someone else brought the ball upcourt, James was too often sitting idle in the corner, or fighting to get a clear line of sight between himself and the ball without having Paul Pierce block the view.
James didn't make a single shot in the first half, didn't get his first field goal until the third quarter was nearly halfway done, and had almost zero impact in the area in which the Cavs failed most as a team -- on the defensive end.
When he went to the line early in the fourth quarter with the home team having turned a six-point halftime deficit into a 22-point hole it wasn't going to climb out of, there was no mistaking whom the boos were being directed at as James missed the first of two free throws.
"It's not a big thing," James said. "We played awful, and they've got every right to boo us if they want to. No disrespect to the fans. They've seen us at our highest level and our lowest level. If they felt it was right to boo, so be it."
Only about 4,000 witnesses remained in their seats by the time the final horn sounded, James having spent the final 3:58 on the bench chewing his fingernails.
When it was over, before he even made it from the bench to the door of the locker room, James was stripping off his white home Cavaliers jersey -- a jersey, it must now be said, that he may never wear again.
The time was 10:53 p.m. ET, and the only person who preceded James through the exit tunnel was stone-faced Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert, resplendent in a nifty blue suit that also betrayed his mood.
Like LeBron, he was silent in the few seconds before be disappeared from view. The big difference was that Gilbert went one way and LeBron went another, a visual we may come back to after July 1 when the Summer of LeBron officially begins. For now, we are left with what has turned into a very stormy spring, with the NBA's No. 1 team and No. 1 superstar on the verge of having their season end Thursday night in Boston if the Celtics can finish this thing in six.
Defensively, they looked every bit as dominant as the Celtics team that won the championship two Junes ago.
Mentally, they have done a complete 180-degree turn after their own debacle of a home loss in Game 3.
Offensively, they're just plain better.
And when James is off his game the way he was on this particular Tuesday, the Cavs simply can't compete with Boston. So either James brings it in a big way Thursday, or we can bring on the educated guesses as to where he'll play next. And at this point, you'd have to rank Cleveland as the third choice on the morning line behind New York and Miami, maybe even fourth behind Chicago.
"Of course their defense had a lot to do with it, they were aggressive, but I missed a lot of shots I usually make," James said. "You don't see this out of me a lot, so when it happens it's a surprise. But they didn't guard me any differently."
Aside from the booing, what struck you as the end of the night unfolded in all its anti-glory were the other things you were hearing, statements of finality from fans and employees alike.
At the employees' exit, security guards and concession stand workers joked that now it was time to start cheering for Kobe, and how hopefully the weather (cold and rainy) would turn better by the weekend, what with Sunday (the day of Game 7 of this series or Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals) shaping up as an unexpected off day.
James kept to himself in the locker room, momentarily popping out of the back room to drop his iPad on the empty chair in front of the spare locker next to his own, a "How ya doing?" being returned with an unexpected "Great."
On this night, James was as far from great as he has been at any major moment of his career. The odd thing was, he didn't seem overly distressed or disturbed by the predicament he and his team now find themselves in.
It was all kind of just too weird.
But then again, who ever could predict what it's going to look like when a city's dream and a player's era come to an unlikely end?
And if that's what Tuesday night ends up being, the last image we'll remember of LeBron the Cav was the most unsightly of games, followed by him going out the door of his home arena for what was the final time
JamesLeBron James, Cavs
Who was that guy wearing the Cavaliers jersey with No. 23 and "James" on the back? Cleveland goes as LeBron goes, so it shouldn't come as a surprise that the Cavs were hammered with LeBron playing below his lofty standards.
Celtics know their identity, Cavs have one game left to find theirs
CLEVELAND -- Doc Rivers was leaning against the wall outside the Celtics' locker room before Game 5 on Tuesday night discussing his team's identity. He could do this because his team actually has one.
More important, he knows what it is.
This is a crucial point for the Cavaliers, owners of the NBA's best record and its MVP but lacking the most important ingredient that wins playoffs series: knowing who you are and exploiting your opponent's weaknesses.
As the Boston lead swelled to 25, and then 30, and then finally 32 in the fourth quarter of another Cleveland heartbreak, the home-court advantage the Cavs had fought so hard to attain had long since disappeared. Game-production gimmicks and loud-mouth histrionics were met with hands folded in laps all around Quicken Loans Arena.
The Cavs' biggest advantage -- the one they are holding onto for dear life now that they teeter on the brink of a stunningly premature playoff death -- was nullified, too. Two-time MVP LeBron James was a mere mortal for the third time in this series. In the most important game of the season -- maybe in the history of basketball in Cleveland -- LeBron had his worst performance as a pro, considering what was on the line.
"I'm not an excuse guy," James said after scoring only 15 points on 3-of-14 shooting in the Cavs' astonishing 120-88 loss to the Celtics. "And the fact that I spoil a lot of people with my play ... when I have three bad games in a seven-year career, it's easy to point that out."
That was the lone defensive moment from James on this night, and the only one I recalled seeing from his team over the previous three hours. When asked what it was like to get booed on his home court -- that's right, Cleveland fans booed LeBron -- he didn't pull a Joe Johnson. He took it like a pro.
"We played awful," James said. "They've got every right to boo us if they want to. No disrespect to the fans. They've been great to us. We try to go out there every game and try to give it our all. They see us at the highest level and they see us at the lowest level. If they felt they had the right to boo, so be it."
So LeBron can take criticism, which is good to know if this were his last game in the cozy confines of The Q, where he runs the place -- right down to whether he would come to the interview room to face the music after a performance like this. That's his call. Everything is here.
Which is why I have more advice for him -- advice that might help him get out of this mess.
Coaching advice for his coach -- who evidently needs it.
It was a truly baffling turn of events, with the Celtics' Big Three taking the torch that supposedly had been passed to Rajon Rondo and scorching the Cavs with it for much of the night. The enormity of the Cavs falling face first into a 3-2 deficit with Game 6 in Boston on Thursday night, as owner Dan Gilbert squirmed in his courtside perch -- three seats down from Kentucky coach John Calipari -- might wind up being the enduring image for a potentially catastrophic offseason.
If this winds up being LeBron's last home game as a Cav, it will leave a bad taste that lasts generations.
"I wasn't even thinking about that," James said. "For me to sit here and say this was our last game here, that wouldn't be me and that wouldn't be our team."
What team is that? The same one that has allowed the Celtics, who've been playing the same way with essentially the same personnel for three years, to impose their will on a team with the best record in the league on its home court? The style is different, but the outcome is the same as it was against Orlando last postseason. The Cavs couldn't figure out how to play against the Magic, and now they can't figure out how to play against the Celtics. It was an utter disgrace -- a 32-point loss at home with everything on the line -- and it's probably too late to fix it now.
But I'll try. Otherwise Mike Brown will be the one person we know is leaving Cleveland after this postseason is over.
Mike Brown has a wealth of talent on his team, but doesn't seem to know how to best use it against the experienced Celtics. (Getty Images)
With his potential successor sitting 30 feet away next to Leon Rose, the agent he shares with LeBron, Brown turned in one of the worst playoff coaching performances imaginable. He employed one adjustment James had suggested after Rondo's dominant performance in Game 4, giving James spot duty on the Celtics' prolific point guard. It worked, but nothing else did.
And this is where playoff series are won and lost -- not with missed shots or momentum swings or angry postgame tirades, but with matchups that some coaches anticipate and expose, while other coaches don't.
So if the Cavs want to do all the things they say they want to do and bring this series back to Cleveland for Game 7, here is what they must do:
Zydrunas Ilgauskas, the longest-tenured and most forgotten Cav, must start in place of Antawn Jamison at power forward in Game 6. There, he can do what Jamison can't -- defend Kevin Garnett. During the 14:21 when Ilgauskas was on the floor Tuesday night, the Celtics scored 14 points. And this was the first time Ilgauskas had played more than five minutes since Game 2 of the Chicago series.
During the other 34 minutes when Ilgauskas was on the bench, the Celtics scored 106 points. Garnett was a factor again, scoring at least 18 points for the fifth time in the series. And he will do it again in Game 6 unless Brown adjusts.
The point where the Cavs' will was broken for good, the opening minutes of the third quarter, also was the result of a coaching and execution clinic. A six-point halftime deficit ballooned to 16 in the first 3½ minutes of the second half.
Why? Two quick offensive rebounds led to 3-pointers by Ray Allen, who was being guarded by Mo Williams. Out of a timeout, Brown switched Williams to Rondo, who quickly went at him for a driving layup, an assist to Garnett and a 13-foot jumper. Just like that, it was 62-46 with 8:29 left in the third.
All because the Celtics know who they are and know whom to attack, and the Cavs don't.
"We know our identity," Rivers had been saying earlier outside the locker room. "We started out the season with it, but we lost our way, no question. We lost our way with all the injuries, and when guys came back, we struggled getting it back."
It's back now, because this is the playoffs, where teams like the Celtics know how to find every little advantage and make them all add up to nullify the MVP -- the "monster," Rivers called him -- on the other side.
I asked the MVP, the monster, if his team was still searching for an identity. He said, "I don't think so," but the rest of his answer said otherwise.
"We know what it takes to win as a team," he said. "But at the same time, we haven't played great basketball, and that's been all playoffs. ... I don't think it's an identity thing. I think it's a consistency thing."
I think it's a trend.
Twice in this series, LeBron has second-guessed his coach. The first instance came after the Cavs bounced back from their Game 2 loss by winning Game 3 in Boston, when LeBron reminded everyone how calm he had been in the face of Brown's angry postgame performance. After the Cavs lost Game 4, LeBron openly questioned why Brown had left Shaquille O'Neal on the bench with five fouls for nearly the entire fourth quarter. "Kind of surprising," is how James put it.
He had no second-guessing to offer Tuesday night. Partly because his own performance didn't warrant it, and partly because nothing more needs to be said.
Cavs lose Game 5 because of James
CLEVELAND -- As he came back onto the floor with 5:50 remaining the seats were half emptied, as they'd been seven long years ago and as they could be as soon as next season. The missing half of the audience had not waited to attend the final minutes of what may be LeBron James's final game in Cleveland.
The night began with the same kind of promise that greeted James's 2003 arrival to Cleveland, and it ended with the crescendo of frustrations that has grown with each of his seven springtimes here. But this was entirely different than the others. In past years, the Cavs lost in spite of James. On Tuesday they lost because of him.
The reigning two-time MVP missed 11 of 14 shots Tuesday while settling for jumpers at an alarmingly ineffective rate. His Cavs lost 120-88 in Game 5, which trends historically as the crucial game of any tight series. James was 0 for 4 at the half and did not score his initial field goal until the 30th minute when he leaked away for a soft two-handed dunk that nicked at Boston's ascendant 65-52 advantage. As he ran back to his teammates he heard cheers tinged with about-time sarcasm.
"We played awful," said James. "They got every right to boo us if they want to."
Was this his farewell to Cleveland? Was this how it ends? The Cavs were leading 29-21 early in the second when Boston coach Doc Rivers decided to rest point guard Rajon Rondo, who has been a mini-me version of LeBron for the Celtics. The Cavs should have cashed in but instead were instantly outscored 16-0 as Rondo's energy was replenished for the explosive third quarter. The first mutterings and groans could be heard when Kevin Garnett (18 points and 2 blocks) turned a pivoting jumper over Antawn Jamison to make it 32-29 for Boston. Then Tony Allen ran the baseline for an unmolested dunk, and that's when the booing started. Over long, excruciating stretches of the second half, they booed louder as Rondo (16 points and 4 assists in the second half) systematically robbed them of all their defensive dignity and Ray Allen (with six threes among his game-high 25 points) sniped from the edges and Garnett passed and scored as he pleased from the block amid 21 resurgent points from Paul Pierce, who essentially took on the early playmaking role to successfully become the finishing piece in this looming upset of the league's No. 1 seed. All this went on around LeBron while his witnesses booed and booed and booed.
"I'm not worried about it," said James when asked about needing a victory Thursday in Boston to avoid elimination. "It's a really good team we're going up against, and you'd hope you could be up 3-2. But we're not." He reminded everyone that Cleveland won Game 3 in Boston and could win there again, and then he appeared to hint at something. "We've got to play hard, we've got to execute," he went on. "The game is more mentally challenging than just going out there and playing the game. You've got to also think the game and know what's best -- and in that particular game it wasn't working. If we have that type of mindset then we have a good chance of winning."
A loss like this will raise all kinds of questions about the respect James and his teammates feel for coach Mike Brown. This is not to insinuate any kind of mutiny or a wanton attempt to get Brown fired. But times of pressure will expose and deepen divisions, and this Cavs team has been consistently inconsistent for two postseasons now.
This is, in fact, a highly difficult team to coach. Management desperately needs to re-sign James when he becomes a free agent this summer because the value of the franchise will plummet by well over $100 million if he leaves, according to league sources. They have so many options -- play big, play small, play fast or pound it inside -- that when they fail you can guess who will be blamed for pulling the wrong levers. Brown tried everything to salvage this evening and change the growing trend of Boston's superiority over the last two games -- he went to Shaquille O'Neal for 21 points (and 4 blocks) in 27 minutes, he went with Zydrunas Ilgauskas (for 14 minutes) at the expense of J.J. Hickson (who played 4), he even tried to bring in the forgotten Daniel Gibson to try to arrest Rondo.
"The tough thing about this league is you can never predict the outcome of a game," said James. "You hope the gameplan is right and that you have it that night."
The one thing Brown was unable to do was to convince his best player to stop settling for jump shots. After trailing by a manageable 50-44 at the half, James would go 3 for 10 from the field and an inexplicable 1 for 2 from the line. Did Michael Jordan ever fail so passively in such crucial circumstances?
James's strained and bruised right elbow clearly is bothering him, which is all the more reason why it was so hard to understand his refusal to drive the ball inside for free throws. "I'm not an excuses guy," he said when asked about the effects of his elbow. "The fact that I spoil a lot of people with my play, when you have a bad game here or there -- you have three bad games in a seven-year career -- it's easy to point that out.
"I put a lot of pressure on myself to try to be great, to try to be the best player on the court. And when I'm not, I feel bad for myself because I'm not going out there and doing the things that I know I can do. I'm not going to hang my head low or make excuses about anything that may be going on. That's just not the type of player and the type of person that I am."
Brown offered an upbeat challenge: "We'll learn about ourselves in Game 6 in Boston." It could very well be that James plays and leads at a high level Thursday, that Cleveland wins again on the road and then returns to protect its homecourt in Game 7. Over the next day, James is going to hear criticism of a kind he's never heard before -- that he isn't a leader, that he is much too friendly and not demanding enough of his teammates, that he lacks the ruthless finishing punch.
This was supposed to be his summer of triumph -- a championship parade followed by a tour of New York, Miami, Chicago and any other NBA city he wished to visit on their dime. But now there is something fundamentally wrong with his team's blasé response to the biggest games of the season, and with his own misguided belief that settling for jump shots will turn them rightside up again.
Now at 25, he is on the verge of being defined negatively for the first time in basketball. What he may not realize now, but will learn to appreciate at the far end of his career, is that he needs this criticism. Each of the biggest winners before him failed in his own way -- Michael, Isiah Thomas, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird -- and each was driven by that failure to succeed. The question for James is whether this failure is put to an end with victories in the next two games, or whether it is carried forth throughout the long summer ahead, carrying him like a flooding tide away from Cleveland and to a new home entirely.