CLEVELAND Cavaliers coach Mike Brown grabbed his chalkboard during a timeout to devise a plan to outwit the New Jersey Nets.
Then he looked into the eyes of LeBron James. And all the pick-and-rolls, down screens and X s and O s that were dancing in Brown s head gave way to one thought: Give No. 23 the ball.
When I think about it, I get the chills right now, Brown said of James icy stare with 5:39 left in Game 2. It was, Hey, quit coaching and just give me the ball. I had no choice. He s our guy. When he gets that look, I m going to roll with him. I m going to hop on his shoulders and roll with him.
As far as he possibly can.
James scored 12 of his 36 points in the fourth quarter and escaped from every defensive trap New Jersey set, helping the Cavaliers take command of the Eastern Conference semifinals with a 102-92 win over the Nets, who might want to work on boxing out underneath or they can start making tee times at the local club.
James added a personal playoff-best 12 assists and his sublime work not only gave the Cavs a 2-0 lead heading into Game 3 on Saturday in East Rutherford, N.J., but it added to the 22-year-old s blossoming NBA postseason legacy.
He s the only player in this year s two rounds to score 30 points and get at least 10 assists, and he has now scored 20 points or more in 19 consecutive playoff games, the second longest such streak to start a career. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar did it 27 times in a row from 1970-72.
It s unbelievable, Brown said. But it s a typical LeBron game.
The Nets did all they could to contain James. They double-teamed him in the post and even switched to a zone defense to prevent him from getting to the basket. He found his way there anyway, even if he wound up on his royal backside a few times.
It was a physical game, James said with a shrug. It s the postseason.
Nets coach Lawrence Frank marveled at James ability to orchestrate the action down the stretch when it was obvious he was going to try and take over.
He wants the ball, and they isolated him on the wing and the first one he gets a 3-point play, Frank said. The next time he finds [Zydrunas] Ilgauskas for a jumper and the next time he finds [Drew] Gooden slashing to the hoop. The next time he drives around our team and gets to the hoop with his right hand.
Mmm. Great player!
James wasn t all that ailed the Nets. For the second straight game, they were done in by a lack of rebounding.
New Jersey gave up 20 offensive rebounds in Game 1, second chances the Cavs converted into 19 points. In Game 2, the Nets did only slightly better, yielding 19 offensive rebounds that resulted in 18 points for Cleveland.
Frank sees the problem as fixable.
Everyone has to take individual responsibility, he said. It is not time for excuses. The tape will show everyone in terms of the way, what we are doing, what we re not doing. It s not that we re not fighting. The problem is, they re fighting harder than we are at this point.
Cleveland was the NBA s No. 1 offensive rebounding team during the regular season, and with Ilgauskas, Gooden and Anderson Varejao leading the charge, the Cavs have punished the backboards in the postseason.
In four games against Washington and two against New Jersey, the Cavs are getting an absurd 13.5 more rebounds per game.
Our guys, Andy, Z and Drew, that s what they do, Brown said.
Something else has been missing for the Nets: Vin-sanity? For the second straight game, Vince Carter missed 16 field goal tries. The Cavs have focused on slowing Carter with Sasha Pavlovic.
Sasha is not guarding him by himself, there are five guys guarding the ball, Brown said. We have to pay a lot of attention to him.