Commentary

Williams confident despite series deficit

Originally Published: May 25, 2009
By Chris Broussard | ESPN The Magazine

Mo WilliamsNathaniel S. Butler/NBAE/Getty ImagesNow that Mo Williams has made a guarantee, he has to back it up on the court.

ORLANDO -- With the Cleveland Cavaliers trailing the Orlando Magic two games to one, you might think the Cavs, ultraconfident all year long, have been swagger-jacked.

But on the eve of Tuesday's Game 4, they were still talking bravely, especially their smallest man.

Wearing stunna shades to cover up the four stitches, two cuts and a black eye he received thanks to an Anthony Johnson elbow in Game 3, Mo Williams gave assurances that the Cavaliers are still Finals-bound.

"We're the best team in basketball," Williams said, speaking before a team meeting and film session. (The Cavs didn't practice.) "They deserve respect; they're a good team. But we're the best team in basketball."

An Orlando television reporter followed by asking Williams, "So if you're the best team in basketball … is it an almost-guarantee that you're going to win this series?"

Williams didn't back off his loaded comment.

"Guarantee we're going to win the series?" he said, repeating the reporter's question. "Yeah, yeah. We're down 1-2, but there's nobody on this team -- and definitely not myself -- that thinks we're not going to win this series. Yeah, it's going to be tough. We know that. We get this game tomorrow, go home, we still have home-court advantage, and I don't see us losing two out of three at home."

LeBron James, who some might argue is the only Cavalier who should be issuing guarantees, softened Williams' comments a bit but ultimately backed up his teammate.

"He should," James said when told of Williams' guarantee. "We should be confident about winning this series. There's no other reason why we should be here. A guarantee or saying you want to win the series, it's the same thing."

To make good on his boast, Williams has to up his game.

Back in 1995, when the Houston Rockets won their second of back-to-back championships, Clyde Drexler used to have something of a postseason ritual.

Before games, "The Glide" would walk around the locker room, screaming repeatedly in an effort to motivate someone -- typically himself -- to support Hakeem "The Dream" Olajuwon.

"Who else gonna be a star tonight?" Drexler would yell menacingly. "We know what Dream gonna do. Who else gonna be a star tonight?"

Perhaps Williams or Delonte West should take a page out of Drexler's book.

The Cavs know what James is going to do -- basically go for 40. But who else is going to be a star?

That's the story of this surprising Eastern Conference final, and while the Cavaliers' deficit is something new to them, the question their would-be Drexler would pose is not.

Every year of the LeBron James era has started -- and pretty much ended -- with queries about who's going to be his star-caliber sidekick.

This season, Williams came closer than anyone, averaging 17.8 points on 47 percent shooting to become an All-Star and James' highest-scoring teammate ever. But there are still doubts about Williams' elite status, and he's only bolstering them in this series.

While he's still averaging 17 points a game, he's shooting just 32 percent from the floor, including only 25 percent from 3-point range. The lack of accuracy on treys is huge, since Williams is taking a whopping eight shots a game from behind the arc, three more than he averaged in the regular season.

With West hitting just 42 percent of his shots in averaging 11.7 points (his season average), and Zydrunas Ilgauskas (10.3 points per game) making good on only 38 percent of his heaves, the Cavs have again become a one-man gang.

James is the only Cavalier to score at least 20 points in a game through the first three contests of this series. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, that's only happened three other times in the past 20 years in a conference final. Each of those teams -- the 2003 Detroit Pistons (Rip Hamilton), the 1994 Utah Jazz (Karl Malone), and the 1989 Chicago Bulls (Michael Jordan) -- lost the series.

"The supporting cast has been struggling," Williams said. "We're putting too much pressure on The King. We've just got to step up and not worry about letting him make every play for us. He's doing too much. And that's not the way we've done it all year. That's not the way we've been successful. We've been successful when you don't know where we're coming from, when you don't know what we're doing, and at the end of the day we've still got No. 23 that you've got to worry about and the other guys are playing well."

The Cavs' offense hasn't become quite as stagnant as it was last season, when highlights of James going one-on-five became commonplace. But he's been the one initiating the offense nearly every time down court, especially in the fourth quarter. His numbers are otherworldly -- 41.7 points, 7.3 assists, 5.7 rebounds and 53 percent shooting -- but if his teammates don't start making shots, they'll go for naught.

Williams doesn't need critics to tell him he's struggling. To his credit, he's called himself out several times this series.

On Monday, after icing his eye all night, he said his head was still "ringing." His swag wasn't damaged at all, though. It was still firmly set on a hundred thousand trillion.

With the Cavs' dream season in danger of ending horribly, he'd better set his game that high, too.

Chris Broussard is a senior writer at ESPN The Magazine.