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Cavs' unpredictable, quirky run to a title continues with 118-88 romp over Hawks

May 27, 2015 -- 12:12am

By Bruce Hooley | ESPNCleveland.com

 

Photo/AP

The hardest place to go is often the one place everyone expects you to go, the only place you can go to avoid being deemed an utter failure.

The Cavaliers have gotten there now, to the NBA Finals, in a spectacular sweep of Eastern Conference top seed Atlanta, dispatching the Hawks with a 118-88 beating Tuesday night at Quicken Loans Arena.

And so 209 days after this Finals-or-bust season began, the Cavs point their GPS toward the NBA championship series and a likely meeting with West No. 1 seed Golden State, which can duplicate the Cavs' homecourt close-out Wednesday against Houston.

This Cavs' season wore a label with simple directions back in late October: "Take 33-win team, add liberal dose of LeBron James, stir in Kevin Love, wait eight months for Finals appearance."

And here we are.

But a measure of how quirky, halting, frustrating and upredictable the path has been is evident in the fact that these Cavs have as many starters left from their opening night lineup -- Kyrie Irving and James -- as they do key contributors from the New York Knicks -- J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert -- who ruined that Oct. 30 debut at The Q.

The wave the Cavs' are riding makes it easy to forget the head-scratching improbabilities that have made this advance to the Finals a reality.

Tell the truth...

• When the Cavs traded for J.R. Smith, did you envision him as a glue guy who would not just shoot threes, but galvanize them into a defensive nightmare?

• When the Cavs traded for Timofey Mozgov, would you have bet he'd be a run-the-floor, catch-and-dunk big with shooting skills out to 15 feet, whose first name everyone in Cleveland would know is pronounced TEAM-o-fay, not Timothy or Tim-o-FEE?

• When the Cavs signed Shawn Marion and Mike Miller, you knew all along that they'd be cheerleaders from the bench during the season's most meaningful games, right?

• When Matthew Dellavedova stuck on the roster, didn't you always know he'd be the secret weapon to close out Chicago and get so deep inside the Hawks' heads the very sight of him would paralyze them?

• When the Cavs started 19-20, did you expect a 46-11 (.807) record after that?

• When Kevin Love went down with a season-ending injury in the sweep of Boston, did you panic just a little with Chicago coming next?

• When the Bulls led the series, 2-1, and owned an 11-point lead with one minute left in the third quarter of Game 4 at home, with LeBron shooting like he had blurred vision, were you betting on a Cavs' win that day and in Games 4 and 5?

• And did any doubt enter your mind when Atlanta, which won three of four from the Cavs in the regular season, owned the home-court advantage and the edge  of Irving skipping Games 2 and 3 with injury?

That's how absurd, inexplicable and downright difficult this advance to the brink of a title has been.

Way back in early November, four games into the season, on a night Irving scored 34 points in 45 minutes and didn't have a single assist in an overtime loss at Utah, LeBron said this after the Cavs sank to 1-3:

''It's like building a car from scratch. I've done that before. I hated the process. It got on my nerves. I sent it back to get repainted 100 times. But once it was completely finished I was excited about it.''

And who among us isn't now?

###

Bruce Hooley hosts "The Bruce Hooley Show" from 5-7 p.m. weekdays on ESPN 850 WKNR. He is the author of, “That’s Why I’m Here: The Chris and Stefanie Spielman Story.”

Email Bruce hoolz@espncleveland.com

Follow Bruce on Twitter @bhoolz

 

 

 

The rules don't apply to NBA stars

May 25, 2015 -- 12:58pm

By Bruce Hooley | ESPNCleveland.com

 

Photo/AP

The rules are different for stars.

How many times have we heard that in the NBA?

Turns out, that adage holds true even after the stars stop making shots and winning games.

Because if the privileges ended when the star stopped playing, TNT's Reggie Miller and Kenny Smith would be getting a scolding from their bosses today about being much more responsible with their commentary.

That's what happens to true professional broadcasters who make damaging, incendiary inferences, like the ones Miller and Smith made about Cavaliers guard Matthew Dellavedova during Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals on Sunday.

But Miller and Smith will skate, and likely never face correction, for strongly suggesting that Dellavedova is a player who crosses the line between clean, hard play and dirty play.

That is a Scarlet Letter a broadcaster can't indict any player with, lacking clear, credible proof, which does not exist in the case of Dellavedova.

The only thing that makes him an outlier is his constant energy, relentless effort and refusal to respect the caste system of NBA stardom.

That trait is why Dellavedova made the Cavaliers as an undrafted free agent, and the day he loses it is the day he'll be out of the league.

Miller and Smith must have forgotten that since the early days of their NBA careers. Although they entered the league from the college basketball meccas of UCLA and North Carolina, neither would have made it without displaying the same effort Dellavedova offers every game.

The controvery started Sunday when Dellevedova attempted to block out Atlanta center Al Horford near the basket in the second quarter. The two fell to the floor, in the vicinity of Atlanta's DeMare Carroll, and Horford was eventually ejected for throwing an elbow at Dellavedova's head/neck.

Here is the exchange between Marv Albert, Miller and Chris Webber on TNT, analyzing the play:

Webber: "You can't come down with that elbow. (Dellavedova) is a guy you love having on your team."

Albert: "As far as the positon is concerned, there are paybacks."

Webber: "If he's on my team, I want you to pay him back as much as possible. He's diving on the floor for a loose ball and we're up 2-0 and we're at home. This is what you're talking about. Yeah, he rolls up, (on Horford's leg), but he falls. He doesn't try to go into someone's knees. He falls over Carroll. It was hustle."

Miller: "No, but here's what the real thing is. He did the same thing to Kyle Korver, and he's out for the series, the high ankle sprain. He's rolling up on Horford's foot right now, and if you're Al Horford, you're saying to myself, 'We saw the video (of Korver's injury).' And even though it didn't look malicious, one of our All-Stars is out for the remainder of this series."

Webber: "You're right Reggie. But Kyle Korver dove for that ball in which he hurt his ankle. I believe Kyle Korver dove for that ball. (TNT shows video of Korver injury). He did. They're both diving."

After a brief exchange, Miller finished by saying this:

"I'm not saying Dellavedova is a dirty player, a malicious (player). He's a hustler. He's an irritant. Very aggressive. My point is, when you start going at guys' legs, knees, ankles and there is a habit., because this happened just last game with Korver...I guarantee you in the locker room, the Hawks looked at it, probably spoke to Kyle Korver and (he said) this guy went for my knees."

At no point did Miller said Dellavedova was a dirty player, but he implied it by connecting two unrelated incidents -- the Korver play from Game 2 and the Taj Gibson-Dellavedova dust-up from Game 5 of the Chicago series after which Gibson was ejected.

Miller unfairly portrayed this as a pattern of Dellavedova "going at guys legs, knees and ankles."

So, diving for a loose ball in Game 2, and Korver diving into the same area for the same loose ball,  in Miller's eyes is Delly "going at" Korver's ankle.

And, in Miller's eyes, Delly falling over Carroll, while being pulled down by Horford, is Delly "going at" Horford's legs.

At one point, Miller said:

"In my opinion, looking at those three plays, they were all initiated by Dellavedova."

So what?

Dellavedova attempted to block Gibson off the glass to secure a rebound in Game 5 when Gibson pushed him to the ground, triggering that scrum.

Delly dove for a loose ball and Korver dove for the same loose ball in Game 2.

And in this latest incident, Horford pulled Dellavedova down after Delly tried to block him out on a rebound.

You know what all three of those are?

Basketball plays in which a basketball player (Dellavedova) makes a play to attempt to secure the basketball.

That is quite unlike what Boston's Kelly Olynk did to Kevin Love in pulling Love's shoulder out of the socket in Game 4.

Olynky was not making any play on the ball, yet where is the outcry from Miller or Smith about Olynk being a dirty player?

It's interesting that at no point did Miller or Webber note that Horford pulled Dellavedova to the ground.

That's the same ignorance Webber showed when Gibson roughed up Dellavedova from behind on a similar block-out play that led to the scrum that resulted in Gibson's ejection.

At the root of all of this is Dellvedova's refusal to back down from or be intimidated by guys who appear bigger, stronger or faster than him.

You saw it during the regular season when Austin Rivers of the Clippers and Dennis Schroeder of the Hawks both grew visibly agitated with Dellavedova's constant in-your-face defense.

Delly is the gnat you can't shoo away. He's the close-talker who stands eight inches inside your personal comfort zone while addressing you, no matter how many times you back away to gain separation.

Miller is absolutely dead-on in his assessment of Dellavedova as, "an irritant."

The NBA, though, is not a league where the hustler or scrapper is celebrated. The only player with limited abilities who garners any respect at all is the brute, like Rick Mahorn, Charles Oakley or Kendrick Perkins.

They look the part. Delly doesn't.

Smith doubled down on the unfair accusations during TNT's halftime show with his dismissive tone in discussing Dellavedova.

"No disrespect," Smith said, which usually means a disrespectful comment is coming next. "He's going for the ball. He's hustling and all of that. But, NBA players have a sensitivity to all of that. The first time, you get away with it. Until the second time."

NBA players have, "a sensitivity," to hustle, huh?

That's probably true, but it wasn't always so.

Austin Carr, speaking with Campy Russell on the FoxSportsOhio post-game, said this:

"To me, there is no substitute for (Dellavedova's) style. You and I saw a lot of guys like him when we played. They've kind of weeded those guys out of the league right now. Delly, there's nothing wrong with his style of play....He just stays on you and he has limitless energy, so that means he's going to be on you all the time."

Carr nailed it...they have weeded guys like Dellavedova out of the NBA.

Back to Smith, and his derisive, "He's hustling and all of that."

What does, "all of that," mean?

It means Smith -- and likely Miller, too -- have no respect for Dellavedova because he doesn't fit their preconceived notion of what an NBA player should be.

Delly played at St. Mary's. He was undrafted. He's not exceptionally fast and he's not a lights-out shooter. He doesn't do anything spectacularly, and you won't see him dunk on the SportsCenter Top 10.

And there's something else at work here, too.

Miller and Smith are willing to insinuate Dellavedova is a dirty player because neither analyst is concerned that Delly will ever become important enough that they'll need access to him.

There is no way either Miller or Smith would paint an NBA star -- say, Joakim Noah, for instance -- as a dirty player because they wouldn't want to offend him and get shut out of that player's world.

Have you heard one peep of conversation from Miller, Smith or any TNT broadcaster questioning Kyrie Irving for sitting out with tendonitis, while LeBron James heroically plays through knee and ankle injuries, willing his team to victory?

Of course, not, because Smith, Miller, Webber and none of their colleagues want to risk offending Irving, because they know they will need access to Irving some day down the road.

Dellavedova, and access to him, means nothing to Smith or Miller.

Smith won't even pay Dellavedova the minimal respect of learning how to correctly pronounce his name, which is nothing more than pure and simple lazy broadcasting.

Thankfully, TNT's Charles Barkley brought some perspective to the Dellavedova conversation.

"He's just out there hustling," Barkley said. "That's how he plays."

TNT's NBA coverage would be so much the better if  Miller and Smith showed a Dellavedova-style effort in applying fairness and responsibilty to their commentary.

Bruce Hooley hosts "The Bruce Hooley Show" from 5-7 p.m. weekdays on ESPN 850 WKNR. He is the author of, “That’s Why I’m Here: The Chris and Stefanie Spielman Story.”

Email Bruce hoolz@espncleveland.com

Follow Bruce on Twitter @bhoolz

 

 

 

Top 10 reasons why David Blatt is the smartest coach in the NBA

May 20, 2015 -- 6:25pm

By Bruce Hooley | ESPNCleveland.com

 

Photo/Getty

In tribute to David Letterman's final show...

Top 10 reasons David Blatt is the smartest coach in the NBA:

No. 10 -- You know, I graduated from Princeton.

No. 9 -- I took this job when no one else wanted it.

No. 8 -- I can speak Italian in post-game press conferences.

No. 7 -- Ha, ha, Hooley, the joke's on you... "aggressivity" really is a word.

No. 6 -- I believed in Delly when none of you other dopes did.

No. 5 -- In case you didn't know, I won 700 games in the Euroleague.

No. 4 -- Remember, you heard it here first, Kevin Love is NOT a max player.

No. 3 -- Don't worry, if I call too many timeouts, I'll make sure the last one is invisible to the officials.

No. 2 -- I motivate LeBron to call great, game-winning, out-of-bounds plays.

No. 1 -- I'm not a fighter pilot, but I play one in the NBA.

####

Bruce Hooley hosts "The Bruce Hooley Show" from 5-7 p.m. weekdays on ESPN 850 WKNR. He is the author of, “That’s Why I’m Here: The Chris and Stefanie Spielman Story.”

Email Bruce hoolz@espncleveland.com

Follow Bruce on Twitter @bhoolz

 

 

 

The unpredictability and raw emotion of sports

May 15, 2015 -- 10:38am

By Bruce Hooley | ESPNCleveland.com

 

Photo/AP

I'm always a little baffled when I meet someone, they ask what I do and their response is, "I don't care anything about sports."

A part of me wants to respond like mom did when something unfamiliar showed up on my plate for the first time, "You should try it, because you'll like it."

In a world where many search for a diversion from the frustrations of everyday life, I'll always be mystified how politics, the entertainment industry, the financial world or reality television trump the unpredictability and raw emotion of sports.

Thursday night in the NBA playoffs proved that.

If you foresaw a 94-73 Cavaliers' blowout of the Bulls in Chicago, with LeBron James scoring only 15 points on 7-of-23 shooting, with Kyrie Irving going to the bench with a re-aggravated left knee minutes into the second quarter and with Pau Gasol returning from a two-game

absence and playing well, then I'll have what you're having.

And if you knew the Houston Rockets, down 3-2 and playing before an energized crowd in Los Angeles, would rally from 13 down in the fourth quarter to win by 12 and force Game 7 with MVP runner-up James Harden scoring just two points in the second half and not getting off the bench in the fourth quarter, then buy a lottery ticket today.

This is why we watch, because as much as we think we know, we really never, ever know until we watch.

What odds could you have gotten on Mathew Dellavedova leading the Cavaliers with 19 points?

Would you have bet on the Cavs not just winning, but pulling away, in the third quarter after it took them 5:47 to score their first points?

Did you expect Tristan Thompson to get up and grab another basket of rebounds after getting undercut and taking a fall that could have given him a concussion, a broken arm, a separated shoulder or several herniated discs?

No one did, but these sorts of things happen often enough (we see you, Cardale Jones) to keep us coming back.

Think about it...the Cavs were down 11, staring at a 3-1 deficit in the series with one minute left in the third quarter of Game 4 and came back to win the next three games.

They won Games 4 and 6 in Chicago with James shooting a combined 17-of-53, Irving shooting a combined 4-of-12 and Kevin Love's left arm in a sling.

Dellavedova, Thompson, Iman Shumpert, J.R. Smith, Timofey Mozgov and James Jones all came up big either offensively, defensively or both at the exact moment the Cavaliers couldn't have survived throughout this series, which is why head coach David Blatt said this last night:

"The power of team trumps all."

Not always, but it can and did in this Eastern Conference semifinal, which means the Cavs have as many playoff wins in their pocket as they're going to need the rest of the way to end Cleveland's 51 year championship drought.

They are halfway home, and while the journey will get tougher from here, who would bet against this team doing the same?

 

Bruce Hooley hosts "The Bruce Hooley Show" from 5-7 p.m. weekdays on ESPN 850 WKNR. He is the author of, “That’s Why I’m Here: The Chris and Stefanie Spielman Story.”

Email Bruce hoolz@espncleveland.com

Follow Bruce on Twitter @bhoolz

 

 

 

Depleted Cavs can lock up an unexpectedly-sweet victory over the Bulls during chase for a championship

May 14, 2015 -- 1:56pm

By Bruce Hooley | ESPNCleveland.com

 

Photo/AP

Advancing to the Eastern Conference finals was never the end of the rainbow for the Cavaliers, but merely a necessary stop en route to a grander destination.

Vanquishing Chicago, which the Cavs can do tonight at the United Center (8 p.m., ESPN-TV), has since taken on a brighter glow in the wake of so much that has changed since the Big Three came together to attack Cleveland's half-century championship drought.

Dispatching the Bulls and all their irritating pieces -- none more annoying the talentless flop artist that is Joakim Noah -- would now be an achievement worth celebrating and savoring.

Yet winning the NBA title remains the goal, and not just because it's the only appropriate thing for teams to say when they're among the last eight standing at this point in the season.

Hoisting the Larry O'Brien Trophy still looms as Job One because the longer the Cavaliers play and the more obstacles they smash through, the more do-able reaching that destination seems.

There's something undeniably special about this team.

Sure, its invincibility took a double shot of depression when Kelly Olynk decided to play tug-of-war with Kevin Love's shoulder socket and J.R. Smith tired of get punked by Jae Crowder and decided to punch back.

If that were the only adversity the Cavaliers had to overcome against Chicago, the Bulls would long since be in their rearview mirror and the Cavs would be feet-up, awaiting the Washington-Atlanta winner.

But then Iman Shumpert's groin flared, Kyrie Irving's ankle and knee rebelled, LeBron James turned his ankle, Derek Rose's Hail Mary landed on the money and David Blatt tried to, well... he tried to do something.

But despite all that, here are the Cavs, up 3-2 with the ace in the hole of Game Seven at home, hoping not to need it.

As daunting as winning a second straight game in Chicago seems, think of things from the Bulls perspective.

They need to win two in a row against James, something they have never done in four series against him.

How realistic must that seem after James pulled Benny the Bull's heart of his chest with that Sunday buzzer-beater and then stomped on it Tuesday night with 38 points, 12 rebounds, 6 assists, 3 steals, 3 blocks and 0 turnovers?

Irving not only looked, but played like his wiggle and sizzle had returned in Game 4, making half his six three-point attempts and scoring 25 points.

The vacation Chicago enjoyed, putting together a defensive strategy to stop the Cavs without having to worry about Irving's penetration or long-distance shooting -- that's over.

So, it appears, is the mammoth break Pau Gasol's absence has been for the Cavs these past two games.

Gasol promises to be, "out there," for Game 6 on a gimpy hamstring.

What he can give, we don't know, nor is Rose's condition clear.

He missed his final 11 field goal attempts in Game 4 after seemingly injuring either his hand or shoulder.

But you never know with the Bulls whether such scoring struggles are physical or mental, because long before Rose started flexing and grimacing, Chicago missed 27 of its last 34 shots in the first half.

Such lulls have obliterated seemingly-comfortable Bulls leads in Game 1, 3, 4 and 5, two of which Chicago won, but all of which the Cavs were within a whisper of taking.

Limited as they've been, by Love's absence, Smith's suspension and the assorted injuries and adversity that have piled on, the Cavs have been the better team.

And yet the door remains ajar, needing one last final push to lock this series down and move on to the the next.

####

Bruce Hooley hosts "The Bruce Hooley Show" from 5-7 p.m. weekdays on ESPN 850 WKNR. He is the author of, “That’s Why I’m Here: The Chris and Stefanie Spielman Story.”

Email Bruce hoolz@espncleveland.com

Follow Bruce on Twitter @bhoolz

 

 

 

Pettine and the Browns are being careful to slow play any expectations they have for Johnny Manziel

May 08, 2015 -- 11:49am

By Bruce Hooley | ESPNCleveland.com

 

Photo/AP

BEREA -- Josh McCown will go into training camp as the Browns' starting quarterback, because someone has to do it, and there's no established No. 2 behind him from the field of candidates that includes Johnny Manziel, Thad Lewis and Connor Shaw.

That news from head coach Mike Pettine will make only minimal headlines even among Browns Nation, tilting toward the tell-me-somthing-I-don't-already-know end of the spectrum from Day One of the team's rookie mini-camp.

As for breaking news, Pettine can count on finding himself in the crosshairs of hatred from the sycophantic supporters of New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.

It's doubtful Pettine has read all 243 pages of the Wells Report on Deflategate, but he felt comfortable enough with his knowledge to skate close to the fringe of calling Brady and the Patriots cheats for circumventing the rules of the NFL.

Of course, as a former New York Jets assistant coach and one-time confidant of noted Patriots nemisis Rex Ryan, Pettine words will be viewed as agenda-driven in Bahhhstan and everywhere Tommy is beloved.

"He's one of the best ever and it would be a shame to tarnish that," Pettine said of Brady. "I guess we'll see how it plays out. I always had a lot of respect for him, but I also lose a lot of respect for people that cheat."

Asked if 11 under-inflated footballs, a finding of the Wells Report, constitutes cheating, Pettine said: "To me, if you found a way to manipulate the footballs so they're below where they should be, that's skirting the rules."

Pettine avoided whether Brady's actions merit a suspension.

"That's why the commissioner gets paid a lot of money," Pettine said. "He'll get that one figured out."

BIG MAN NOT ON CAMPUS: Pettine said one of the things he likes about the Browns going forward is "our depth on the offensive and defensive lines."

The team bolstered that with first-round draft choices of nose-tackle Danny Shelton and center/tackle Cameron Erving.

But the Browns could have taken a risk by choosing LSU offensive tackle La'ell Collins with one of their many later-round picks.

Collins, a consensus first-round talent, plummeted in the draft when linked to a murder investigation that he appears close to extracting himself from.

"We had that discussion," Pettine said. "We gathered al the information we could and it was a comfort thing. No one felt comfortable making that pick. The word was out there that he would not sign if he was a late pick."

Collins signed a three-year, $1.67-million guaranteed contract with the Dallas Cowboys on Thursday.

That signing contradicted statements Collins' agent made to reporters after the first night of the draft. The agent contended if Collins didn't go in Rounds 2 or 3, he would sit out a year and re-enter the draft next year.

The Browns, or any team, could have taken Collins with a late-round pick and owned his rights until the 2016 draft.

Any team using a pick on Collins could have signed him to the same contract as Dallas.

"It was discussed that first day," Pettine said of the Browns' conversations about Collins "For most teams, (serious thought to taking Collins) took place on Day 2. Day 1, nobody had very good information. Day 2, people started gathering as much information as they could."

Pettine said the Browns re-addressed Collins availability after the draft, but stopped short of characterizing the team's interest as intense.

"I know (singing him as a free agent) was discussed, but I don't know if I could say accurately that there was a push for it to happen," Pettine said. "We liked him as a player. Virtually everybody had a first-round grade on him."Does Pettine regret not drafting or signing Collins?

"I don't know if I can answer that until a couple of years down the road," he said.

WHOA, JOHNNY, WHOA: Pettine and the Browns are being careful to slow play any expectations they have for Johnny Manziel at quarterback.

The Browns coach stuck to the organizational view that Manziel need only concern himself post-rehab with putting one foot in front of the other every day.

"We want him essentially with horse blinders on," Pettine said. "Focus on his job, getting up every day, perfecting his craft, whatever it is, the homework the quarterbacks have, come out and work on his footwork, his releases. (We want him) much more concenred about himself than anything else."

Pettine said Manziel, Lewis and Shaw will share snaps behind McCown in a rotation determined by the offensive coaching staff.

"We're not going to start talking competition," he said. "Josh, like I said, will more than likely be the starter coming into camp and in the forseeable future. I don't see that changing."

Pettine, who is attending offensive meetings,  said Manziel has the right answers when called upon and is showing a renewed commitment that several teammates have spoken about.

Pettine said he could not compare Manziel's ability to answer offense-related questions this year to last season, "because I wasn't in those meetings (last season)....I think we're asking more of him in those meetings this year than we did a year ago."

Pettine said McCown's hold on the job is a beginning, not an end.

"I'm not going to commit to a starter for Game 1," he said. "But you have to put someone out there first and it's going to be Josh."

####

Bruce Hooley hosts "The Bruce Hooley Show" from 5-7 p.m. weekdays on ESPN 850 WKNR. He is the author of, “That’s Why I’m Here: The Chris and Stefanie Spielman Story.”

Email Bruce hoolz@espncleveland.com

Follow Bruce on Twitter @bhoolz

 

 

 

LeBron digs in for vintage performance, leads Cavs to rout over the Bulls

May 06, 2015 -- 10:10pm

By Bruce Hooley | ESPNCleveland.com

 

Photo/AP

When LeBron James does what he did Wednesday night, it makes you wonder why he'd ever do what he did Monday night.

It doesn't matter now, of course, unless James decides to retreat from his aggressive-at-the-outset approach in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference semifinals back to the wait-and-see-what-develops strategy he employed in Game 1.

The Cavaliers will take -- and need -- the James who scored 22 of his 33 points in the first half of their 106-91 rout of Chicago on Wednesday in the rest of this series and the rest of this post-season.

The LeBron who came within an assist of a triple-double, but scored only 19 points and shot just 9-of-22 in the series opener -- that guy we've hopefully seen for the last time.

James not only played like Vintage LeBron in Game 2, he looked the part, right down to the return of The Headband.

If all it takes is wearing that to wear out the Bulls, then every Cavalier better sport one Friday night for Game 3 at the United Center.

Unfortunately, it will take more, and the hope is the return of J.R. Smith from a two-game suspension will give the Cavaliers a shot of adrenaline and another three-point threat to free James for his diesel-powered drives down the lane.

Now that the series has been evened, the biggest concern shifts to the groin strain Iman Shumpert suffered early in the third quarter.

Magnificent again, Shumpert followed his career-playoff high 22 points in Game 1 by hitting his first three three-point field goals to help the Cavs jump to a 20-6 lead in the first quarter.

That margin grew to 38-18 by quarter's end, hung around the same neighborhood at halftime, 64-45, and lingered in the comfort zone at 72-49 when Shumpert went to the sidelines two minutes into the second half.

Almost immediately, Chicago scored on six straight possessions, 14 consecutive points, and the lead shrank perilously to 72-61.

Instantly, James responded, powering to the rim to stunt the Bulls' rally.

Seemingly calmed by LeBron's steadying influence, the teammates whose arms shortened during the Chicago comeback instantly regrew their chest hair.

James Jones landed a triple off a James assist, then dropped another when Tristan Thompson manufactured an offensive rebound to give the Cavs another possession.

That inflated the lead back to 80-65 with 3:28 left in the third and drained Chicago's realistic hopes of coming all the way back to claim a 2-0 lead in the series.

James just wouldn't have it...not on this night.

Through three quarters, nine of his 13 field goals came at the rim, a place he seemed hesitant to go in Game One.

He also earned nine free throw attempts, after getting just a pair in Game One.

"We're very short-handed right now," James said. "I have to be aggressive. I was a little more aggressive than my usual self. I'm happy I was able to make some plays to help us out."

This is the LeBron the Cavaliers must have.

He can't play Bulls All-Star Jimmy Butler even; he must emphatically dwarf the league's most-improved player and the Bulls' No. 2 threat behind Derek Rose.

Mission accomplished, given James' 33 points, eight rebounds and five assists in 34 minutes next to Butler's 18-2-1 line on 5-of-14 shooting, including 2-of-7 from 3-point range.

Butler's struggles typified the turnaround from distance Chicago experienced from Game One.

From 10-of-18 in victory on Monday, the Bulls returned to reality with a 7-of-22 showing from beyond the arc.

The Cavaliers closed the defensive loopholes that allowed Chicago so much freedom on the perimeter in the series opener, and no one felt that more than Pau Gasol.

The 7-footer and five-time all-star probably couldn't believe his good fortune, being left open on the pick-and-roll, on Monday night.

But in Game 2, Gasol couldn't even match his 12-point third-quarter in Game 1, finishing with just 11 points on 3-of-8 shooting.

Credit Thompson for that and for being an absolute beast on the glass, with 12 rebounds.

Jones gave the Cavaliers the bonus points they'll need from one of their gray-beards on the bench, hitting 5-of-9 three-pointers to score 17 points.

Shumpert finished with 15 points and 7 rebounds, but that essentially came in just one half before he spent the rest of the night riding an exercise bike and going through the motions in what minutes he did play, clearly limited by his groin injury.

Now the series shifts to Chicago, with Smith's return gaining greater significance in light of Shumpert's shaky status.

"It's going to be tough in that building," James said. "I've played in that building multiple times. It's going to be tough to win there."

But much easier, if James stays in attack mode.

####

Bruce Hooley hosts "The Bruce Hooley Show" from 5-7 p.m. weekdays on ESPN 850 WKNR. He is the author of, “That’s Why I’m Here: The Chris and Stefanie Spielman Story.”

Email Bruce hoolz@espncleveland.com

Follow Bruce on Twitter @bhoolz

 

 

 

Ray Farmer is the latest Browns' GM who's going to prove that his way is the best way

May 04, 2015 -- 7:40am

By Bruce Hooley | ESPNCleveland.com

 

Photo/AP

I hope Ray Farmer's mother likes the blender he bought her for Mother's Day.

Hopefully, she'll enjoy it as much as his children did the socks and underwear he gave them for Christmas.

That's how Farmer played the 2015 NFL draft: safe, secure, sensible and defensible.

If you were looking for sizzle, flash or an appreciable, across-the-board upgrade to the Browns' plodding and pedestrian skill positions, you came away grateful for Farmer's sincere intentions, but disappointed in his creativity.

Other than the addition of University of Miami running back Duke Johnson, you received no captivating toys. Johnson has shimmy and shake and speed and the promise of turning any snap into an 80-yard touchdown.

He's the sparkling toy race car under your tree.

Farmer just didn't buy any batteries to go with him.

Oh, sure, the Browns drafted versatile offensive lineman Cameron Erving with the 19th overall pick in the first round, and everyone knows a great offensive line makes for a great offense, right?

Of course, it's an adage as old as the leather helmet...run the ball and stop the run and you will be an elite team in the NFL.

So the Browns took Erving, a center/tackle from Florida State, to shore up the offensive line and took 330-pound nose tackle Danny Shelton of Washington 12th to bolster the league's worst run defense.

It was a safe, sensible and defensible strategy to raise the Browns from 7-9 to something better.

Like, 8-8.

That's what the New York Jets and San Francisco 49ers were last year with offenses that ranked third and fourth, respectively, in rushing offense and defenses that ranked fifth and seventh, respectively, against the run.

Tell me, if running the ball and stopping the run are crucial to being an elite team in the NFL, why didn't we have a scintilllating Super Bowl between the Jets and 49ers?

Instead, both their coaches got fired.

Houston joined the Jets and San Francisco in having a rushing offense and rushing defense that ranked among the Top Ten in the league. The Texas finished fifth in rushing and 10th in stopping the run on their way to finishing 9-7.

Whoopee!

The Browns have sold their fans on the faulty notion that devoting high draft choices to the offensive line will result in a dominant unit that will bring automatic success.

It remains breaking news in Berea that the modern NFL is a throwing league, with rules stacked to protect quarterbacks and perpetuate the passing game.

Farmer should be commended for not forcing a quarterback selection this year when none loomed on the horizon at a sensible price.

But to bypass wide receivers until the drop-prone Vince Mayle of Washington State in the fourth round (the 19th receiver taken) and skip tight end until taking two prospects in round six smacks of Farmer's continued belief that he is smarter than everyone in the room, no matter how big the room.

If Erving (19) joins Joe Thomas (3), Joel Bitonio (35), Alex Mack (21),  and Mitchell Schwartz (37) on the line this fall, the Browns will have a home-grown unit in which no player was taken above the fifth pick in the second round.

Yet they will surround their quarterback with an undistinguished group of average-by-NFL-standards receivers and running backs, Johnson hopefully exempted.

If Farmer's and the Browns' all-in strategy on the offensive line had merit, wouldn't at least one team with an elite quarterback choose to protect that asset with blockers taken as highly as those in Cleveland?

But in New England, they protect Tom Brady with one first-round draft choice, a second-rounder, a fourth-rounder and two undrafted free agents.

Aaron Rodgers toils behind a line in Green Bay with one No. 1 pick, three fourth-rounders and one fifth-rounder.

The Steelers have two No. 1s in front of Ben Roethlisberger, a No. 2, an undrafted free agent and a left tackle taken 248th overall in the seventh round three years ago.

That is where the constant turnover in Berea has hurt the Browns. Any low-round lineman taken, with the idea of developing him, has probably been caught in the undertow of the coach or GM who liked him being jettisoned in a regime change before that player could progress.

If there's any team in the NFL that would see first- or high-second-round linemen as crucial to its success, it would have to be Denver, to protect creaky old Peyton Manning. But instead, Manning toils behind one No. 1, two No. 3s, a fourth-rounder and a UFA.

The Saints invested the 13th overall pick on Thursday in Stanford offensive tackle Andrus Peat. Even without him, Drew Brees has been getting along fine behind a line that included no first- or second-rounders.

This isn't to say Erving will be a bust as a Browns offensive lineman, or that Shelton will fade into the nothingness that grips the career of Phil Taylor, another first-round Browns defensive lineman whose impact has been weighty only when he steps on a scale.

But Farmer, like the GMs who preceeded him, just spent too much too early on a commodity that's attainable later in the draft and didn't devote enough effort to upgrading the Browns' skill positions at a time they desperately need it.

He drafted like a GM running scared, because the selection of offensive and defensive linemen can always be defended as long as fans subscribe to out-dated theories that great lines must be built with high draft picks or big free-agent signings.

Instead, great teams find difference-makers at receiver, running back, quarterback, linebacker, defensive back or pass-rusher with high draft choices or big free agent money and strategically build at least some of their lines with lower-round choices or undrafted free agents they develop.

Farmer is the latest Browns' GM who's going to prove that his way is the best way.

Of that, he is certain. So certain, Farmer is trumpeting the theory that he will build an offensive and defensive line capable of physically dictating to the Steelers and Ravens -- teams that have imposed their will on the Browns for years -- and to Cincinnati, which over the last four years has made the playoffs every season and won the most games of any team in the AFC North.

Here's hoping he's right.

Because if he isn't, the socks and underwear can't be returned.

####

Bruce Hooley hosts "The Bruce Hooley Show" from 5-7 p.m. weekdays on ESPN 850 WKNR. He is the author of, “That’s Why I’m Here: The Chris and Stefanie Spielman Story.”

Email Bruce hoolz@espncleveland.com

Follow Bruce on Twitter @bhoolz

 

 

 

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