The Cavaliers return to Cleveland down 0-2 to the San Antonio Spurs, the same position they were in for Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Pistons. But with the Spurs playing great basketball right now, Cavs coach Mike Brown is going to have to find a way to turn his club around if Cleveland wants to extend this series past Game 4.
At least the Cleveland Cavaliers have been here before.
The Cavaliers are coming home to Quicken Loans Arena down 2-0 in the NBA Finals to the San Antonio Spurs. You may recall Cleveland was in the same boat in the Eastern Conference final against the Detroit Pistons; that turned out pretty well for the Cavs.
But there is one crucial difference in this round: Cleveland’s opponents are playing some very good basketball.
Whatever the Cavs were doing right during the regular season to win both of their games against San Antonio, it’s all gone wrong in the playoffs. The Spurs are eating Cleveland’s lunch so far. They got paid in both the first two games (at -7 and -7½) to extend their current hot streak to 13-3-1 against the spread. San Antonio’s Big Three of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili combined for 67 points in Game 1 and a tremendous 78 points in Game 2.
Now the stumbling Cavs are 1½-point home dogs in Game 3. The last time they were pegged at that price was also against the Pistons, in Game 4 of the Eastern final when it appeared that Larry Hughes would not play because of a foot injury. Hughes did play, but it was the emergence of Daniel Gibson (21 points in 35 minutes) that turned the tide in Cleveland’s favor. They won Game 4 to tie the series and never looked back.
This has been a painful series for Cavs supporters, not just because of the humbling losses in the opening two games, but also for the conservative choices made by coach Mike Brown (pictured) on basketball’s biggest stage. It isn’t only the brainiacs on the blogosphere complaining, either. Anyone who has seen Hughes attempt to play since his foot injury can tell he has no business being on the court, let alone in the starting lineup. His contribution thus far versus the Spurs: 1-for-10 from the field and a minus-32.
Gibson, the rookie from Texas who Brown just can’t seem to bring himself to trust, is Cleveland’s second-best player behind LeBron James. You can look at the advanced metrics and see that James leads the Cavs with a plus-18.4 postseason Roland Rating, followed by Gibson at plus-10.4. Or you can just look at the 18.8 points per game Gibson has scored over the past five Cleveland games, second only to James’ 26.4 points per game.
Any way you slice it, the Cavs obviously need Gibson if they have any hope of downing the Spurs. And they do have hope, especially after the big fourth-quarter comeback they mounted in Game 2 with a smaller lineup including Gibson and Damon Jones in the backcourt.
But that hope stops at Brown who told reporters after Game 1 when asked about starting Gibson, "We’re in a nice rhythm with the rotation that we have, and we’ll continue to look at that. Daniel especially is in a nice rhythm coming off the bench, so we don’t want to try to mess with that right now."
That 'dance with what brung us' mentality is ironic, considering Brown learned at the feet of his counterpart in this series, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich. The veteran coach has outwitted his former assistant in San Antonio, rotating his players judiciously to keep everyone fresh and out of foul trouble. Popovich has done a particularly good job of taking Cavs center Zydrunas Ilguaskas out of the equation. After scoring 19 points per game in the first round against the undermanned Washington Wizards, Ilgauskas has a paltry 11 points in two games versus the Spurs. Worse, he is minus-37 in the Finals, making him even less valuable to the Cavs than Hughes has been.
The Spurs have lost seven of their last nine games when up 2-0 in a playoff series; if you think Brown will see the light, you can get Cleveland as high as +105 on the moneyline for Game 3. The total is sitting around 178½-179. Tip-off is at 9:00 p.m. Eastern on ABC.