Posted by John Schuhmann
CLEVELAND – Cavs coach Mike Brown has a lot of options on his frontline, an embarrassment of riches, if you will.
He has big bodies in Shaquille O’Neal and Zydrunas Ilgauskas at center. He has a power forward who can stretch the floor in Antawn Jamison. He has energy guy Anderson Varejao, who can play both the four and the five. And he has the athletic J.J. Hickson. Heck, he can even use LeBron James at the four, given that the MVP is bigger than most power forwards in this league.
Of course, the downside to such a plethora of options is the pressure it puts on a coach to make the right decisions when it comes to substitutions. If something goes wrong for the Cavs, it’s easy to blame whatever four-five combination is on the floor at the time.
It doesn’t help that Brown never had a full complement of bigs until the playoffs started. So he doesn’t have much data to fall back on, as far as what works and what doesn’t.
Brown is a good coach, but he has struggled making in-game adjustments at times. And with such a stacked roster, there is plenty of pressure on him to push the right buttons. Tonight, he did a pretty good job of that.
Brown’s choice to go to Hickson in the first minute of the second quarter when Shaq picked up his third foul looked better in the boxscore than it did on the floor. Hickson scored seven points in less than nine minutes, but made some mistakes defensively that cost the Cavs some buckets.
“We kind of talked him through it,” Brown said afterward. “I thought he was giving us some pretty good energy, and that’s what I left him in.”
For the game, Hickson was a +5 on the scoreboard. The move paid off overall. Frontline athleticism is the Celtics’ kryptonite, so the second-year forward has a chance to be a huge factor in this series.
The most important move of the night, however, turned out to be Brown’s decision to go back to Shaq in the fourth. The Diesel had been largely ineffective through the first 36 minutes, scoring just five points on 1-for-6 from the field, and grabbing a total of one rebound in more than 10 minutes of action.
Still, Brown called on O’Neal with 10:29 to go in the game and the score tied at 81. And down the stretch, Shaq had three of the biggest buckets of the night, the highlight being his up-and-under move on Kendrick Perkins, which gave the Cavs the lead for good with 4:46 left. His hard foul on Rajon Rondo also seemed to pay dividends. After scoring 44 points in the paint through the first three quarters, the Celtics had just eight in the fourth.
“I just thought his presence was a big factor in the way we defended in the fourth quarter,” Brown said.
John Schuhmann is a staff writer for NBA.com. Follow him on twitter.