Time for LeBron to act like the MVP

CLEVELAND – Cleveland coach Mike Brown had just gone off like few had ever seen him. He sat in front of the media and railed about his team’s lack of effort and emotion in a humiliating 104-86 Game 2 loss to Boston.

He questioned their urgency. He voiced concern over their defense. He looked like the coach of a team that had been outplayed seven of the last eight quarters – are actually fortunate to have this series tied at 1-1 – and are one lost weekend in Boston from all but blowing this supposed-to-be-dream season.

In the damn second round no less.

Prior to Game 2, LeBron James accepted his MVP award, then only took nine shots in the first three quarters.
(Getty Images)

“Plain and simple, they kicked our behind,” Brown said. “It’s not good enough for me. It’s not good enough for anybody in that locker room.”

He might want to check again on that last part. Back in that locker room you could hardly tell anything calamitous had just occurred.

Mo Williams(notes), who had just gone 1-for-9 from the floor and watched opposing point guard Rajon Rondo(notes) dish 19 assists, emerged from the shower to find a gaggle of reporters waiting for him. He looked dumbfounded.

“Damn,” Williams said, with a smile. “What you all want?”

Across the way, LeBron James(notes), Mr. MVP X2, pulled on a pair of purple socks.

“For me,” LeBron would say, “there’s no panic. I may handle it differently than Mike. This is a long series.”

It’s not going to be unless LeBron James starts thinking like Mike Brown. So here comes the test of LeBron and here it comes in a big, big way. Cleveland is in trouble, and if Brown is the only one who realizes it, then the Cavaliers are in more trouble than even the coach suspects.

Boston isn’t going away. All these supposed old men just keep coming and coming and coming, still convinced a championship can be theirs. They’ve got too many weapons. They’ve got too much heart.

Brown sees it. Brown senses it.

LeBron needs to in a hurry.

“I understand we have to play with more urgency,” James said. “[But] for me to come up here with head low makes no sense.”

Maybe, maybe not. Something’s got to give though.

This wasn’t the Celtics stealing a game on the road. This was a full annihilation, one far more focused and far more tenacious team manhandling a casual opponent. The Celts won the rebounding battle by 11, dished 13 more assists and even saw Rasheed Wallace(notes) pour in 17 points. In the Celtics’ postgame locker room, Tony Allen(notes) was recalling how he got a steal on LeBron and how James responded by chewing on his mouthpiece.

Confident? Oh, Boston is all about confidence. They absolutely believe they are the better team in this series. When they let Game 1 slip away in a late Cavs flurry “they were angry,” said coach Doc Rivers. They clearly saw Cleveland didn’t share that emotion Monday.

Cleveland coach Mike Brown screams at his team in the third quarter.
(Mark Duncan/AP Photo)

The Cavs’ 61 wins during the regular season doesn’t scare them. Neither does LeBron’s two MVP awards, the second of which he picked up before Monday night’s game. And forget everyone else – Shaq is a shell of himself, Williams can’t shoot and basically no one else showed up Monday. A passive LeBron took just nine shots in the first three quarters.

“Tonight was real simple,” the normally mild mannered Brown said. “For 48 minutes we did not play with a sense of urgency. They kicked our behind from the beginning. They got every 50/50 ball. They converted every offensive rebound into points.

“We have to decide if we are going to take the fight to them and take these games. Nothing is going to be given to us at all. Ain’t a [expletive] thing going to be given to us at all in this series. We have to come out and fight better than we did tonight. … If we expect to win this series, we have got to bring more of a sense of urgency.”

He was about out of breath. About.

“We are going to see what we are made of come Game 3.”

You can make the “we” into No. 23. James can’t make the others shoot better. He can’t put Shaq in some oversized hot tub time machine. He can’t get his elbow 100 percent.

He can start grabbing guys by the collar and demanding effort, though. Defense and rebounding and hustle have to be prerequisites, and that standard has to come from the superstar – the way it did with Russell and Magic and Larry and Michael and all the other great talents who became great champions.

LeBron needs to absolutely put the fear of the King in the next teammate that doesn’t bother closing out on ‘Sheed.

This isn’t 2007, when James led the Cavs to the Finals and then got swamped by vastly superior San Antonio. This isn’t 2009, when Cleveland had no answer for Dwight Howard(notes) in a loss to Orlando in the conference finals.

This is Cleveland hardly putting up a fight. This was a 25-point fourth quarter deficit at home. This was a team that for most of the first two games looks like it’s on the way to another playoff regression.

Afterward, LeBron was asked if he was embarrassed or humiliated.

“I wouldn’t go that far,” he replied. “Those are pretty harsh words.”

He needs to find harsher ones. James said Brown wasn’t screaming at the team in the locker room and appeared surprised at his coach’s anger. Maybe Brown doesn’t feel comfortable lighting up his guys directly. That would be a problem. Maybe the players just missed his anger. That would be, too.

In the end, it shouldn’t matter. LeBron should’ve been the one demanding better directly.

“No one said it was going to be easy,” LeBron said. “The postseason isn’t easy. … That’s why I’m up here talking the way I’m talking. I know how the playoffs are.”

Yes, this is just one game, even if it did just shift home-court advantage to the Celtics. Nothing is so simple with Cleveland though. Cavs fans can’t help but assume doom is about to descend. With James facing free agency and not publicly committing to the franchise, every result leads to speculation that it may force him to leave. We’re in for four days of “does this push LeBron to New York?” hyperbole. Where else would LeBron be asked about “curses” and “panic?”

“I understand the burden Cleveland fans have,” he said. “But I don’t feel that at all.”

Mike Brown does. LeBron doesn’t. The supporting cast follows the star’s lead.

Sometime between now and Friday, James needs to recognize that problem and get his mindset closer to his coach. Because this was no loss, Boston is no pushover and this entire season can get away from the Cavs in a hurry.

Dan Wetzel is Yahoo! Sports' national columnist. He is the co-author of the book "Death to the BCS: The Definitive Case Against the Bowl Championship Series," which following five printings of the first edition was re-released in a second, updated edition in October. Follow him on Twitter. Send Dan a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Tuesday, May 4, 2010