by Jake Appleman
I’ve been trying to fully understand Mike Brown’s sideline moves for a while now. Winning 50 games has certainly been a praiseworthy achievement for a rookie coach. Trying to figure out if the Cavs actually run a real offense, however, is really exhausting. Does a steady mix of pick-and-Bron, Bron-and-roll, Bron-and-pop, Bron-and-spread, Iso-Bron, and dump-it-into-Z-once-a-quarter constitute an actual offense? I guess so…
But halfway through the second quarter of last night’s exhilarating 74-72 win, I began to understand what Brown can do for you. As the players came back onto the floor after a timeout, Dick Stockton incorrectly stated that Damon Jones had just entered the game for the first time. In fact, Animal Planet’s future answer to the Crocodile Hunter had already checked in, played some minutes and done his thing, which translated to nothing because it wasn’t crunch time. I don’t even really blame Stockton for not noticing the invisible.
Having Jones on the floor wasn’t about exploiting a specific matchup against the Pistons. If anything, putting Damon Jones on floor can be classified as self-exploitation. DJ’s extended minutes on the floor, however, were about a greater purpose: a mixing and matching of Cavaliers that gave Mike Brown his best chance to win. Like a chef — let’s call him Mikebron the Chef — his job is to mix and match his ingredients to nourish an existing hunger. (Since food is the topic, there is your clichéd cheese…)
In this analogous culinary sense, having Damon Jones on the floor for major minutes is like a chef at an Italian restaurant adding parsley to an entree. The parsley doesn’t really do much and certainly can’t dominate; it’s just sort of there for decoration and to look pretty. And that’s exactly what DJ was doing: decorating the perimeter, and, in his own eyes, looking pretty. In the context of the Cavalier offense that Brown used to defeat Detroit, DJ’s decoration worked to perfection. The Pistons had already decided that they would sag off of Eric Snow, so Brown employed a perimeter-based, well-spaced unit that left Snow the ability to get to the rim. His third quarter performance kept the Cavs in the game long enough for them to make their series-altering, Sheed-muting, fourth quarter run.
Strategically, Mikebron the Chef decided to spread the floor with Donyell Marshall, Snow, Jones/Flip Murray and LeBron. Only Anderson Varejao roamed the middle, and his game isn’t the type to bog down a spread offense by commanding attention in the post. The open space gave LeBron the room he needed to work with in the fourth quarter and Marshall the opportunity to come through in the clutch after he nearly bricked the Cavs out of the game earlier on.
The other element that helped the chef was veteran leadership. Snow, Jones and Marshall are all established veterans while Flip Murray has playoff experience. The Playoffs are at least partially about veterans making key plays and asserting their will and experience on the game.
With Mikebron the Chef cooking, his veterans providing the right ingredients, and the knowledge that LeBron still hasn’t played up to his dominant capability, it’s already more than Piston fans can stomach.