SAN ANTONIO -- Like any coach down 2-0 in a playoff series, Cavaliers coach Mike Brown has problems.
He's thrown just about everything he can at Tony Parker, using four different defenders in the first quarter alone during Sunday's Game 2 NBA Finals loss to the Spurs, to no avail. He's double-teamed Tim Duncan from every angle, which hasn't worked, and he's played him straight up, which has been a disaster. And no one, it seems, can keep track of Manu Ginobili.
While these are issues that will keep Brown, the ultimate defense-first coach, up at night, none may be the most pressing with his team. He may well have some solutions on his roster, but it's questionable as to whether he'll be able to bring himself to use them. A conservative man by nature, Brown is very slow to institute change and that may be what's needed to reverse the course of the Finals.
Brown's frontline simply hasn't been able to compete with the Spurs, while his small lineup off the bench has worked wonders, especially in the fourth quarters of Games 1 and 2.
Center Zydrunas Ilgauskas has been miserable at both ends, shooting just 4-for-16 with 10 rebounds in the first two games. He's been unable to affect Duncan at all and often has found himself out of position. When LeBron James had to go to the bench with fouls in the first quarter Sunday, it was twice because he was covering for Ilgauskas' defensive mistakes, one in transition and one off a mishandled pick-and-roll.
Larry Hughes, battling a foot injury, is just 1 of 10 shooting and has just two assists in the first two games. Drew Gooden and Sasha Pavlovic have produced better offensive numbers, but have been suspect. Pavlovic is getting handled on defense by whomever he covers, and Gooden is getting beaten to rebounds.
Meanwhile, when Brown goes to a small lineup of James, Anderson Varejao, Daniel Gibson, Damon Jones and Donyell Marshall, the Cavs have outplayed the Spurs. Part of it may be the home team relaxing with large leads. The flip side is that group really challenges the Spurs' collapsing and expanding defense with its shooters. On defense, while it still has matchup issues, the Cavs' small and quick group has extra energy and quickness, which seem to make a difference.
That lineup pushes the ball better in transition, preventing the Spurs from setting up their defense. Gibson has hit 13 of 22 shots and is averaging 15.5 points in the two games. Varejao is averaging nine points and seven rebounds. Jones, Marshall and Gibson are a combined 8-for-18 on 3-pointers as well. In all, those five have primarily outscored the Spurs by 22 points in the fourth quarters of both games.
Brown has said the small group works as more of a changeup than a fastball, but at this point the Cavs are in need of anything that works. In an effort to do something to level the playing field, Brown may have to go against his instincts and rely more on his clicking bench players than his scuffling starters.
Brian Windhorst covers the Cavaliers for the Akron Beacon Journal