Pay attention to LeBron's aggression in Game 2
AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- LeBron James had nothing to say publicly this morning -- "I don't do media in the morning" -- about The Pass or anything else pertaining to the Eastern Conference finals, leaving it to his coach and teammates to assess how the final moments of Game 1, and the debate surrounding it, might impact Game 2.
"He's fine. You're talking about a kid, a young man now, who has had the weight of the world on his shoulders since 10th grade, maybe earlier. Not many things affect that man," Cavs coach Mike Brown said. "Look at him now, he's shooting 50-footers with Damon [Jones] and laughing, so I think he's OK."
When he wasn't shooting 50-footers, some of them underhanded, James was competing with Drew Gooden to see who could do the best impression of Heat guard Jason Williams shooting a pull-up 3-pointer. He also had general manager Danny Ferry in his ear describing what Ferry took to be a peculiar line of questioning moments earlier from TNT's Craig Sager.
All in all, it was a pretty loose mood inside The Palace as the Cavs conducted their morning shootaround for Game 2, which tips off at 8 p.m. ET.
By the time the end of the fourth quarter rolls around, it'll have been a full 72 hours since the fateful moment when James, with the Cavs trailing by two points with under 10 seconds left, drove to the basket but decided not to shoot with the defense collapsing on him, instead passing the ball to an open Donyell Marshall in the corner for a 3-point attempt that missed.
If the basketball gods have any sense of drama, we'll get to see whether James decides to do things differently should a similar situation unfold at the end of tonight's game.
"Our rule is: We want the best shot. And I'm going to put the ball in his hands at the end of the game, everybody knows it and it's no secret, and I'm going to live with what he comes up with," Brown said. "If he wants to shoot it if he's doubled, he's got the green light. If he feels like somebody else has a better shot at it, he's going to go for the assist.
"People don't realize he has won a lot of games for us, hitting Damon Jones in the corner for a 3 against Toronto, hitting Flip Murray in the corner last season for a 3 against Chicago to send it to overtime. Then he's won some games on his own. He beat New Orleans down there off an iso shooting a pull-up, or getting to the rim in Houston last year and scoring.
"So whatever he does, I'm good to go -- as long as he's aggressive."
If aggression can be measured by the number of times a player gets to the foul line, one can only surmise that James was a pacifist in Game 1. He did not attempt a single free throw while scoring a career playoff-low 10 points -- a factor that didn't get a ton of scrutiny over the past two days, with all the debate over whether James should have taken the biggest shot of the game.
One faction has argued that it is a superstar's job to take the biggest shot with the game on the line, while the other faction insists you can't find fault with a guy for getting the ball to a teammate who was so open it seemed like the nearest defender was somewhere near the outskirts of Flint.
"It was a wide-open teammate and a great look. I mean, LeBron is out there to make plays, and if that shot goes in and we go up one point, LeBron has a triple-double and everybody loves him," Gooden said. "That's the shoes he has to fill, and it comes with the territory. It's not fair, but everybody on the team stood by his decision."
Several Cavs players said they expect the main difference between Game 1 and Game 2 to be an increased level of aggression, which they hope will turn into an increase in foul shots and fast-break opportunities. And although they scored only 76 points in the opener, the Cavs did not play a sloppy game, committing only seven individual turnovers (the same number Chauncey Billups had all by himself), with a big edge on the boards with 18 offensive rebounds to Detroit's 11. But 3-point shooting (1-for-10) was a weakness, and having seven of their shots blocked by Rasheed Wallace was something the Cavs never would have expected -- especially going against an opponent whose last line of defense was supposedly weakened by the free agent departure of Ben Wallace last summer.
Cleveland also will look for another efficient game from the likes of Zydrunas Ilgauskas (22 points, 13 rebounds) and Anderson Varejao (13 points, eight rebounds) while also hoping to get better shooting from the starting backcourt duo of Larry Hughes (4-for-15) and Sasha Pavlovic (4-for-14).
Mostly, though, the Cavs will look to see a higher level of aggression from James, who is going to be the lightning rod for attention no matter how good or bad the rest of the Cavs perform.
As Gooden said, it goes with the territory.
"There are four teams left. You can't talk about any of the other 26 teams in the league because they're at home,'' James said after practice Wednesday. "No one has anything else to talk about, so they have to talk about me.''
Chris Sheridan covers the NBA for ESPN Insider. To e-mail Chris, click here.