AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- I'm not going to kill Cleveland Cavaliers coach Mike Brown harder than anybody else in this column -- I'll save that honor for the referees -- for biting his tongue after the Eastern Conference finals Game 2 loss, 79-76, to the Detroit Pistons on Thursday, although I think he did his team a disservice in trying to take the high road by refraining from criticizing the officials in the interview room afterward.
Fine-worthy rebuke in order
"We're a no-excuse team," Brown said, a line that was echoed minutes later by LeBron James.
But make no mistake, the Cavs were absolutely livid at the lack of a call when James drove to the basket with eight seconds left and was hacked numerous times by Richard Hamilton, including a rake across his arm as he went for the shot everyone had been waiting three days to see if he would take.
I asked Hamilton in the locker room afterward if he had fouled James on the play, and Hamilton couldn't stifle a cackle before he gave his answer: "Nah, you know. I just put my hands up."
And let the record show that he cackled at the end of that answer, too.
The non-call was so egregious, I'd expect Jimmy Clark, Bernie Fryer and Mark Wunderlich to be told by the league office that they can watch the rest of the playoffs from Joey Crawford's man cave, since they don't deserve to be working at this stage of the postseason if they're too scared to call a foul on the biggest play of the game. But I'm not sure whether those three referees will be taking calls from the league office on Friday, since all three must be scheduled for surgery to have the whistles they swallowed removed from their stomachs.
You know, Brown could have come up with a line or two like that. Sure, a few angry remarks would have cost him a fine, but at least would have earned him the gratitude of the Cavs' fans, who will wake Friday morning feeling -- and feeling it rightfully, I might add -- that they were screwed.
If that had happened to someone on the Lakers, you can bet your bottom dollar Phil Jackson would have spoken frankly about it, then taken his $50,000 fine like a man.
Same would have happened with Pat Riley if that had happened to the Heat, and don't even get me started on what Mark Cuban would have done if the Dallas Mavericks had been on the receiving end of that non-call. His fine might have made it into seven figures.
But this is all Brown had to say:
"The officials get paid a lot of money, and that's their job. If they don't see anything, they don't see anything. We're a no-excuse team. We've got to get ready for Game 3."
I pressed Brown on the matter by telling him I wasn't looking for an excuse, just a description of how that final James possession looked from where he was standing.
"LeBron drove the ball. He shot it, he missed it. Larry [Hughes] got the rebound, he shot it, he missed it. Andy [Anderson Varejao] tipped it, they came up with the rebound and we fouled them," Brown said.
So why did you get so upset?
"Just emotions," he said. "Tough game."
Maybe Brown expressed everything he wanted when he drew a technical foul with one second left, walking on the court to complain. That move is going to merit an explanation Friday. Think about it, when's the last time you saw a coach take a tech in a one-point conference finals game with one second left?
I also asked James about the play in question and what he was shouting at the referees when play stopped.
"That's over and done with," he said. "Me and the ref had a good conversation, and I've moved on as a player."
Maybe I'm barking up the wrong tree here, but where the heck is the indignation? By my count Hamilton slapped James on the arms three or four times when he was driving to the hoop, and that's not even counting the contact he took on the shot. If you wanted to be totally technical, there were probably five different instances of contact on which fouls could have been called.
Compared to Dirk Nowitzki's touch foul against Dwyane Wade in Game 5 of the NBA Finals last year, this was an absolute mugging.
I can understand the Cavs not wanting to be seen as a team that complains about the referees publicly, but there's a way to make your point without crossing the line.
What if Brown had said this: "I thought Hamilton fouled him three or four times, and I can't understand why the referees didn't call it, because I could see it plain as day from 50 feet away, and I only have two eyes. They have six. But what's done is done, and we're not going to blame the referees for this loss. We blame ourselves."
At least he would have been stating the obvious instead of acting like someone who feared the wrath of David Stern so much he was afraid to speak out.
And besides, complaining about a bad call or a non-call is not tantamount to making an excuse. They're two totally different things.
The Cavs had a right to be angry, and I felt Brown had an obligation to at least show a little emotion. If he wanted to go ballistic and spend $50,000 getting it off his chest, that would have been acceptable, too.
I just didn't like the whole specter of the Cavs slinking off into the night looking like they were almost afraid to stand up for themselves.
They got robbed, and either their coach or their superstar should have found a way to say so. Instead, the Cavs came off as being meek. And at this stage of the season, it is not time to be a pushover. It's time to stand up for yourself and state the truth, and if it costs you $50,000, so be it. At least the refs will hear your message, and the next time it happens you'll probably get the call.
It's called working the refs, and the best coaches do it when circumstances call for it. And on this night, Brown should have piped up more than he did.
Chris Sheridan covers the NBA for ESPN Insider. To e-mail Chris, click here.
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
Rasheed Wallace reacts after making a shot over LeBron James, putting the Pistons up 77-76 with 27 seconds left in Game 2.
Scott (East Lansing, Mich.): Mike Conley at No. 3 is too high, right? Wouldn't the Hawks be better served drafting Al Horford and playing him at center, then grabbing Acie Law or maybe even Conley at No. 11?
Chad Ford: Why is No. 3 too high for Conley? He's the best point guard prospect in the draft and he fits a MAJOR need for the Hawks. They used the same reasoning to pass on Chris Paul and Rajon Rondo ... they were picking too high to take a small point guard. It's ridiculous.
There is no guarantee that Conley is there at No. 11 and I think Acie Law isn't on the same level as Conley. What's not to like about Conley -- he's super fast, is strong, has great floor vision and leadership skills and can really get to the basket. His jump shot is streaky, but his form is OK. I think the Hawks would make a huge mistake by risking not taking him at No. 3. Then again, it is the Hawks we're talking about.
Three podcasts to enjoy while waiting for a different score in the Cavs-Pistons series . . .
• Chad Ford talks with agent Marc Cornstein: On the international players he's representing in the NBA draft.
•Blazers GM Kevin Pritchard: Tells Colin Cowherd about Portland's fortunes in the wake of winning the NBA draft lottery.
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
LeBron James goes up for his final shot of Game 2. He missed, though he protested there was contact on the play.
Quote of the Day:
-- Andrew Ayres
Maybe the Cavs need to practice halftime.
Cleveland fans may stomp around in disgust at the swallowed whistles in the final 24 seconds of the Pistons' 79-76 Game 2 victory, but their frustration may be misplaced.
While those subjective moments may be touchstone topics, it's black-and-white exactitude that has kept the Cavs from pulling off an upset in either of the first two games in the sweatbox that is The Palace of Auburn Hills. The fourth quarter, especially the closing seconds, has drawn very much attention, but the Cavs failures earlier in their two losses have really held them back.
The Cavs have been awful after halftime in the past two series, a flaw that has come back to bite them routinely all season. After fighting to a four-point edge at the break in Game 1, they were instantly overwhelmed by an intense Pistons club on Monday and fought uphill the rest of the game. In Game 2, after an attacking and aggressive second quarter earned the Cavs a 12-point margin, their flat third quarter saw them give it all back and then some.
The Pistons have outscored the Cavs by a combined 16 points in the third quarters of both games, their halftime maneuvers and refreshed intensity proving to be a difference-making attribute. In the series against the New Jersey Nets, the Cavs were outscored by a combined 42 points in the third quarters and relied on shutdown fourth quarters to eke out wins.
On Thursday, it wasn't as if the Pistons got super hot in a comeback claw. They only made 9-of-21 shots in the third. Instead it was a mix of intense defense and poor Cavs offensive execution. After LeBron James scored 14 points in the first half, he took the first shot of the third quarter and wasn't heard from again until the fourth. The Cavs also were outrebounded in the third, didn't score a single basket in the paint, and didn't get a second-chance points.
"We haven't been a good third quarter team all year," James said after the loss. "That's something we'll have to figure out very soon or we're going home."
-- Brian Windhorst in Auburn Hills, Mich.
For the Sonics, the arrival of Kevin Durant most likely means the departure of Rashard Lewis, who can opt out of his contract to become an unrestricted free agent. There was already talk that the Sonics couldn't afford to keep him and he wanted out anyway.
The trick will be convincing Lewis that a sign-and-trade is the best way to leave town (allowing the Sonics to get something in return). It could work because only one team, Charlotte, is really in a position to give Lewis great money without some sort of sign-and-trade.
As much as Durant will be a marketable star in Seattle, he doesn't solve all of the Sonics' problems.
It was déja vu all over again for the Cleveland Cavaliers against the Detroit Pistons in the Eastern Conference finals, except LeBron James shot the ball in Game 2 instead of passing.
For the second straight game, the Cavaliers surrendered a 76-75 lead and finished 0-for-5 from the field during that span, falling 79-76.
-- Michael E. Jackson, ESPN Research