By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 24, 2008
INDEPENDENCE, Ohio, April 23 -- Near the end of the first half of Game 1 of this Eastern Conference first-round series, Washington Wizards center Brendan Haywood knocked LeBron James to the floor with a hard screen and stood over him. By the time James shot up into Haywood's midsection and lifted his left elbow to get Haywood to back off, Cleveland Cavaliers Coach Mike Brown was on the court screaming and pointing.
When Haywood shoved James in midair and sent him flying into the photographers along the baseline in the third quarter of Game 2, Brown again rushed the court, moving his arms forward and shouting, "He pushed him."
Brown repeatedly has come to the defense of his superstar during this series. After Game 1, Brown said James took such a pounding that he could've played for the Cleveland Browns, emphasizing his point with a table-banging display that would've pleased Nikita Khrushchev. Brown continued to plead for the officials to clean up the series -- and protect James -- on Wednesday, with the Cavaliers holding 2-0 lead. The series switches to Verizon Center for Game 3 on Thursday night.
"He's always defending me, and that's why I respect him," James said. "I'm happy he's my head coach. He's always been able to stick up for me."
Haywood made light of the way Brown has gone about protecting James after hard fouls "like he got shot or something." On Wednesday, Haywood said: "C'mon, Mike. That man's name is LeBron James, not LeBron Brown. He's not your son."
Brown laughed when told that Haywood thought he went too far in defending his players. "The head coach has a right to come out on the floor. I will come out on the floor anytime I see a skirmish because I don't want any of my players to get kicked out of the current game nor suspended for any future games," Brown said. "It's my job as a coach to help take care of the business on the floor with the referees, with my team."
But Brown added that he has limits.
"You won't see me hanging on anybody's leg," Brown said, conjuring the infamous image of then-New York Knicks Coach Jeff Van Gundy trying to break up a fight between Larry Johnson and Alonzo Mourning in the 1998 playoffs by hanging on to Mourning's leg.
"You won't see me in the stands no more. None of that. I've been in the mix before."
Before becoming the Cavaliers' head coach in the summer of 2005, Brown was known for being the first Indiana Pacers assistant to rush into the stands and grab Ron Artest during the infamous brawl between the Pacers and fans of the Detroit Pistons at the Palace of Auburn Hills in November 2004. For one of the first times since coming to Cleveland, Brown spoke about the incident on Wednesday.
"It was crazy. It was surreal," Brown said. "Initially the first thing [I thought] before breaking it up, I didn't want to pop my hamstring trying to jump off the scorer's table. I was worried about that. I would've been out of commission for a while."
Brown said being a part of that melee has made him more alert about teams being overly physical. "The officials did a nice job in Game 2," Brown said, "but there is too much talk about hitting LeBron, and I know they don't want tempers to boil over for [the Wizards] or for us."
Brown has a 21-14 postseason record, which gives him the most playoff wins of any coach in franchise history. He led the Cavaliers to the NBA Finals last year, and they were within one game of upsetting the Pistons in the conference semifinals two years ago. His players say such success is the result of his hard work, discipline and focus. Brown worked previously as an assistant in Indiana and San Antonio, where he won a championship in 2003.
In the first two games of the series, Brown started Wally Szczerbiak and let him defend Caron Butler, and he used James to shut down Gilbert Arenas in Game 2. He also heeded a suggestion from reserve guard Eric Snow and called the two late-game plays that resulted in the decisive baskets by James in Game 1.
"If you give him a chance to play one team and dissect one team, he's going to really dissect it. He's going to try to attack the team to wherever they are vulnerable," Snow said.
Another key to Brown's success in Cleveland is that he has been able to establish a healthy working relationship with James, whom Brown said he can challenge and give freedom to make mistakes on the floor. "He's going to get coached. He's going to listen most of the time and it's going to make it easier for me to get through to the sixth or seventh man," said Brown, who was given a contract extension in January. "He's so talented, he's so good, he can easily get bored with things. And if you're not challenging him, then you could end up losing him."
That hasn't been the case yet.
"Mike Brown is very intense and I'm the right player to be around him, because I am, too," James said. "At the end of the day, we want to win. He's very locked in during the postseason and he helps us. He doesn't allow us to think ahead or think at one point that the series is over or we can relax. He makes sure we're in tune every day."
And he's also willing to shield his superstar from harm.