CLEVELAND - His team trailing, two games to none, in its best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinal series against the Celtics, Cleveland Cavaliers coach Mike Brown said yesterday he isn't hoping LeBron James will bust out of his 8-for-42 shooting funk in Game 3 tonight at Quicken Loans Arena.
Brown believes it will happen.
"He just has to be who he is," Brown said.
More important, Brown knows it can happen at any moment.
"Oh, yeah, he's a great player," the Cavaliers coach said of his off-target superstar, who did not make himself available to the media after yesterday's practice at Cleveland Clinic Courts. "He's a great player and great players have the ability to change things big time."
And that is why the Celtics must remain on guard against James tonight.
While they did a commendable job defending him in Games 1 and 2, now that the series has shifted here for Games 3 and 4, the Celtics must be prepared for a breakout performance by James, whose struggles in the first two games at TD Banknorth Garden included an 0-for-10 effort from the 3-point arc and 17 turnovers, including 10 in Game 1.
"I just want him to continue to be aggressive," Brown said. "Going back and watching tape, he had some open looks. He's just got to continue, without hesitation, to try and knock 'em down. I just think some of it has to do with him not being aggressive when he's shooting it.
"They're really not blitzing him hard, or double-teaming him hard, most of the time. He's just got to come off and he's got to make a conscious effort that, 'OK, I'm coming off to shoot.' I don't care if he's behind the 3-point line or in front of it, 'If I got to get up 10 threes, then I'm going to get up 10 threes.' Whatever it takes."
Whatever it takes. That could very well be the mantra for King James and his Court as they attempt to fight their way back from a 2-0 series deficit. It was instructive, however, for the Cavaliers to have dealt with this scenario in last year's Eastern Conference finals when they dropped the first two games against the Pistons but rallied to win the series.
"Of course, it helps," James said after Thursday night's 89-73 setback in which he scored 21 points on 6-for-24 shooting and 9 for 13 from the foul line. "To be in that situation before, you know how to adjust. This is a very similar team to Detroit. They have so many weapons, defensively they're a very good team, and we found a way to win Game 3 [vs. the Pistons]."
In Game 1 vs. the Celtics, even though the Cavaliers shot 30 percent (with James going 2 for 18), they squandered an opportunity to steal one in Boston after James missed what, for him, seemed like a routine layup on the Cavaliers' last possession. Then in Game 2, they squandered a 21-9 first-quarter lead when the Celtics got timely support from the bench, which outscored Cleveland, 20-1, in that period and 34-17 overall.
"Their bench came in and closed the gap and it was big for them," said Wally Szczerbiak. "I've said it all along, their bench has been the key to their season and their success. They come in with guys like that and then they bring in Sam Cassell at the end of the year, who killed us in the last two games. So when you get that kind of production from your bench, that's big.
"So, we got to find a way to slow those guys down."
The Cavaliers must also find a way to get their primary offensive weapon going again.
"I think LeBron's surprised at himself," Szczerbiak said. "I don't think he's ever had two games in a row like this. The poor guy has so much on his shoulders. You know, he's got to carry the weight of the team, the weight of the offense, and he's got everyone pointing fingers at him and trying to stop him. And they're a very good defensive team.
"So it's kind of up to some of the other guys to try and step up and make plays and make shots and take some of the onus off him," Szczerbiak added. "I know he's been working his butt off really hard and we're going to expect him to have a LeBron-type game the next game and I think he'll be fine."
Odds are LeBron James is not going to have another bad game. After all, who would ever be bold enough to wager on that type of trifecta?
"I wouldn't bet a lot on it," said reserve guard Daniel Gibson, who was spotted after yesterday's practice doing some extra 3-point shooting along with Sasha Pavlovic and Delonte West. "LeBron, even though he's not making a lot of shots, he's still LeBron and he's making the game easier for a lot of the other guys. We just have to get out there, play basketball, and try to do our part."
Michael Vega can be reached at email@example.com.