LeBron's injury can't be blamed for Cavaliers' shortfall
LeBron James' elbow injury isn't why the Cavaliers were crushed in Game 2
The Cavaliers should win this series, even if James rarely attempts a jump shot
They failed to re-engage when LeBron James was rested at the season's end
Understand this much: The Cavaliers did not lose Game 2 on Monday because of LeBron James' elbow.
His elbow didn't prevent them from rotating defensively into the paint, it didn't enable Kevin Garnett and Kendrick Perkins to beat them down court and it didn't cause James' perimeter teammates -- Mo Williams, Anthony Parker, Delonte West and Jamario Moon -- to go 4-for-23 from the field in Cleveland's 104-86 meltdown loss.
James was scheduled to have a second MRI of his right shooting elbow this week. He has been diagnosed as suffering from a strained tendon and a bone bruise, and he has been working himself into the two Eastern Conference semifinal games before attempting jump shots at an increasing rate in the second halves. He helped win Game 1 by making a pair of threes in the fourth quarter after Paul Pierce dared him to make one, with James obliging flat-footed off the dribble -- a highly difficult shot on a night when James went 3-of-6 from beyond the arc and 12-of-24 overall for 35 points.
Of course, the timing of this injury is horrible for Cleveland. But so long as James is able to play, his Cavs should win this series, even if he rarely attempts a jump shot. Have we forgotten LeBron's versatility? His best stretches this season against the Celtics have come when he has driven to the basket. He is one of the best-rebounding small forwards in the league, he has helped limit Pierce to an average of 13.5 points (33.3 percent) over the two games, and as a passer, James shares more in common with Magic Johnson than with Michael Jordan.
To accuse the Cavaliers of losing home-court advantage because of James' elbow is a non-sequitur argument. Their problem has been their failure to re-engage since coach Mike Brown rested James over the final four games of the regular season. Apart from a strong Game 4 at Chicago, they glided through Round 1 and then closed the ensuing series opener with an 18-minute flurry for a 101-93 win. Otherwise they've shown very little to equal their own high standards.
The Celtics responded to their Game 1 collapse by putting together four strong quarters for the first time in ages against a title contender. Now we are supposed to believe they'll string together four wins against the NBA's best team? The talented Celtics are capable of that, but they have not proved they can achieve consistency of the highest level this season. After Christmas, they went 27-27, and that so-so play over a telling four-month span defines who they are -- and that won't change until their play in this series tells a different story.
The same goes for Cleveland. It would be foolish to believe the Cavs won't wake up and respond to Game 2. They didn't win 61 games this season -- a league-leading performance that wasn't as easy as they made it look -- without responding to bad times.
So let's not think it's all over because of LeBron's elbow. Mo Williams -- who won Game 1 for Cleveland and has scorched Boston this season -- isn't likely to go 1-for-9 again. Shaquille O'Neal, who led the NBA in field-goal percentage last season, will probably start making some of those gimmes he's been missing. Based on everything we've seen this season, it's safe to imagine their team defense will improve.
The three-day break in between games turns out to be helpful to Cleveland, not only for the sake of Anderson Varejao's back spasms and James' elbow, but also to simmer and extend the humiliation and frustration they're feeling over their own play. Unless devastating news comes from the latest MRI, the real story is likely to be Cleveland's change of heart as they stop playing so cavalierly in Games 3 and 4 this weekend at Boston.
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