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If I Were You

Jul 30, 2015 -- 9:48am

By Bruce Hooley |



The surprise stemming from NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell's standing firm on a four-game suspension for Tom Brady grew from flawed roots.

Goodell's punishment for Brady's role in the latest Patriots' cheating scandal was never going to boil down to the deflation of footballs.

It was always going to be about Brady and his franchise's lack of cooperation with the league's investigation.

When you hear arguments that whatever happened when New England throttled Indianapolis in the playoffs gave Brady no decisive advantage in the 45-7 outcome, ignore the bluster.

Of course, it didn't.

So what?

What Tommy B. knew and when he knew it, or whether it can be proven Brady ordered the Patriots ball boys to tinker with the balls, doesn't matter.

Goodell, just like the NCAA, won't abide being shown up by an underling.

Brady, as talented and telegenic as he is, cooked his chances of avoiding a suspension when he laughed at the initial DeflateGate questions and then doubled down by destroying a cell phone he knew the league wanted to examine.

Brady's defenders argue he shouldn't be forced to surrender his private cell phone, and they are absolutely right.

So what?

Destroying it the day he was to meet with NFL investigator Ted Wells was Brady figuratively mooning Goodell's authority to question him.

Now Brady wants the NFL Players Association to lead his appeal. That's the same NFL Players Association that, in exhange for relaxed training camp procedures and friendlier off-season conditioning rules, willingly agreed to Goodell's appointment as judge, jury, executioner and appelate court in the last collective bargaining agreement.

Brady had a chance to proclaim his innocence in a pre-Super Bowl interview with Bob Costas. When asked to do so, Brady said "however those facts come out, those will be news to me, as well."

If you're innocent, don't you know -- or, at least, contend -- the facts will exonerate you before whatever investigation the NFL conducts?

Brady and everyone in the Patriots organization blew this, and now they're engaged in a  public relations war with the NFL that it's doubtful the team or its star quarterback can win.

The way to attack it would have been to stall the week of the Super Bowl -- "We have a game to play, and after it's over, we'll address DeflateGate" -- and then have Brady say something like this as he stood on the podium, clutching the MVP trophy:

"Everyone in our organization works extra hard so we can all enjoy a moment like this. If our equipment guys went over the line trying to deliver footballs to me the way I like them, I'd hate that for the integrity of the league and our organization. If that happened, I'd deeply regret that they mistook our desire to do everything we can to win for pressure to do anything even remotely against the rules."

If Brady says anything close to that, he and Patriots owner Bob Kraft aren't trying to dig out from an avalanche of bad publicity and perceived guilt.

Outside Patriots Nation, the well-established image of the franchise as serial cheaters predisposes them to culpability on DeflateGate in the public's eye.

The NFL has added to that perception with purposefully leaked stories that 11 of the 12 New England footballs in the Colts' game were significantly underinflated.

Sure, it wasn't true, but it was out there for a long time before being retracted, and the retraction never cancels the initial headlines.

Hours before Goodell's 20-page justification for upholding Brady's suspension, the league floated the destroyed cell phone narrative.

No amount of Brady Facebook postings will neutralize that.

It is nice, though, that Tommy finally found his footing on social media to proclaim what he failed to do in front of 114 million viewers on the Super Bowl pregame show.

If I were you, Tom, I'd take my suspension before your appeal opens a window to subpoena things you're accustomed to having  your personal assistant destroy.

And, of course, I'd definitely unfriend Roger Goodell.



Bruce Hooley hosts "The Bruce Hooley Show" from 5-7 p.m. weekdays on ESPN 850 WKNR. He is the author of, “That’s Why I’m Here: The Chris and Stefanie Spielman Story.”

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With Braxton Miller done at QB, the Buckeyes will inevitably turn to J.T. Barrett over Cardale Jones

Jul 24, 2015 -- 1:00pm

By Bruce Hooley |



The Ohio State quarterback competition is a lot less crowded and a lot more predictable with Braxton Miller's announced intention to switch to a hybrid receiver position.

Miller's bombshell, aired Thursday night on, clears the way for J.T. Barrett to resume the starting job he held until a broken ankle in the Michigan game ushered national championship savior Cardale Jones into the spotlight.

So what loomed as a three-man battle between Miller, a two-time Big Ten offensive player-of-the-year; Barrett, the fifth-place finisher in the 2014 Heisman Trophy race; and Jones, who nervelessly annihilated Wisconsin, Alabama and Oregon en route to the first college football playoff title; now loses a lot more than one-third of its combatants.

Meet the new quarterback competition; same as the old quarterback competition.

Barrett edged in front of Jones last August when Miller's surgically-repaired right shoulder went ker-blooey on one of his first ardent throws of fall camp.

Jones had been the backup in the spring, when Miller sat out following post-Orange Bowl surgery, but Barrett's numbing efficiency and superior attention to detail nudged him in front of Jones just before Miller went down.

Barrett did nothing to make head coach Urban Meyer question that decision, setting 17 Ohio State single-season records and a pair of Big Ten marks.

Barrett threw for 2,834 yards, rushed for 938 and accounted for 45 touchdowns.

While this summer has been filled with speculation about Miller's eventual destination and Jones tweeting about this and this and this and this, Barrett was quietly rehabilitating his ankle and wowing a Super Bowl-winning quarterback at the Nike Elite 11 camp.

So, whose summer do you think Meyer approves of most?

Sure, the OSU head coach can say Miller's move to H-back -- where he'll run the ball and catch the ball (and most-assuredly add yet another wrinkle to an already ridiculously-potent Ohio State attack with his ability to throw) -- isn't official just yet, but that's ridiculous.

The fact that Pete Thamel of broke the Miller story tells you all you need to know about whether this caught Meyer unaware.

Thamel doesn't get to Miller without Meyer knowing, because a solid reporter like Thamel isn't going to risk the inside access he has to Meyer going behind the coach's back to contact Miller.

Remember last December, on that Sunday morning when the four playoff teams were announced? Who do you think was watching the announcement in the living room of Urban Meyer's home on the seventh fairway at Muirfield Village Golf Club?

None other than Pete Thamel.

No reporter worth his bones -- and Thamel is among the best on college football -- is going to napalm a bridge into Urban Meyer's castle for a backdoor play with Braxton Miller.

Then there's the football side of this.

Is Meyer going to force Miller to play quarterback with arguably-better options in Barrett and Jones available?

Is Meyer going to reject the free pass of a now-orderely quarterback hierarchy because he craves the hotly-debated drama and round-the-clock quizzing of a three-player competition bound to end with fans of the two losers upset?

The answers to those questions are as obvious as the outcome of the supposed Barrett-Jones competition that remains.

Meyer will start Barrett and keep Jones in reserve because doing just that won the Buckeyes a national championship last season, and because Barrett has proven himself more reliable at all the things coaches obsess about.

Jones is playful, carefree and colorful in a sport that often makes no allowance for any of that.

Barrett is efficient, consistent and boring, and thus the perfect automaton to gain Meyer a fourth national championship ring.

Barrett is not quite as electric a runner as Miller and not quite as awe-inspiring a thrower as Jones, but he's close enough in both categories to lead OSU past its comically-impotent regular-season schedule.

Jones gives Meyer a proven backup he can humor with enough minutes against the Buckeyes' overmatched opponents to polish his NFL Draft stock.

Just in case something happens to Barrett -- and it certainly could given that Meyer voluntarily subjects his quarterbacks to hundreds of hits a season -- Jones will be ready in the bullpen to come in and close.

We've seen this movie before and it played to rave reviews.

Why would Meyer tinker with an award-winning script now?

He won't, of course, which means the much-anticipated Buckeyes' quarterback battle is over before it began.

It sure was fun while it lasted.


Bruce Hooley hosts "The Bruce Hooley Show" from 5-7 p.m. weekdays on ESPN 850 WKNR. He is the author of, “That’s Why I’m Here: The Chris and Stefanie Spielman Story.”

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One year later, David Blatt's future with the Cavs is as muddy as ever

Jun 20, 2015 -- 5:06pm

By Bruce Hooley |



Does Cavaliers coach David Blatt have the best job in the NBA or the worst job in the NBA?

The answer is, yes.

One year ago today, the Cavaliers hired Blatt, who walked into his office expecting to coach a young team building for the future.

He instead wound up with the winning lottery ticket of LeBron James' return and all the additional talent that either directly attracted or prompted the Cavaliers' front office to acquire.

That's the case for Blatt having the best job in the league.

But with James' return and the expectations it brought, Blatt received none of the leeway to learn the NBA that other first-year coaches get. And James' dominant personality and demanding nature forces any coach of his to worry first about building a consensus with the superstar at the expense of what that coach may prefer to implement.

That's the case for Blatt having the worst job in the league.

Whether Blatt will, or should, be charged with walking that tightrope next season looms as the Cavaliers' most vexing decision of the off-season.

It's more important than balancing Tristan Thompson's desire for a max or near-max contract, re-signing Kevin Love for the short or long term, retaining or allowing Mathew Dellavedova to walk or bending to J.R. Smith's contract demands should he decline his player option.

All of those are significant decisions, but none of those matters has the potential to tear at the fabric of the Cavaliers' championship chase for next season like making the wrong call on Blatt.

This would be an easy decision if only James would make his feelings about the matter clearly known, but that's never been his style.

James doesn't want the reputation of a coach-killer, so he's much more likely to go off the grid and say nothing than issue a thumbs-up or thumbs-down on Blatt's return.

What James' silence means is likely to spur endless conversations in the board room at Quicken Loans Arena.

Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert doesn't want the label of firing three coaches in three years, but he'd undoubtedly do it if he knew James and the rest of the players preferred assistant coach Tyronn Lue or someone else.

It's nonsensical for Gilbert to fear criticism from bloggers, reporters and broadcasters. First, because nothing could ever approach the firestorm Gilbert deservedly received and already weathered for The Letter upon James' departure for Miami, and second because why a billionaire would pay any attention to public perception is beyond puzzling.

But Gilbert is nothing if not a hound in search of positive press, so opinions that shouldn't matter to him matter greatly.

Gilbert's overarching desire to be popular is as much a threat to the Cavs winning an NBA title as the injuries that devastated their roster this post-season.

If Gilbert and general manager David Griffin ultimately deem Blatt an impediment to the Cavs winning a title, then a change must be made.

The devilish part for Cavs management is making the determination on whether Lue, if he's where James' perceived preference forces them to go next, is an upgrade over Blatt.

Lue certainly has more NBA experience than Blatt, and Lue apparently coordinated the defensive assignments that helped the Cavs cope with injuries to Love and Kyrie Irving and extend the NBA Finals to six games.

But is there any guarantee James would bend to Lue's direction, that Lue could build a consensus with James that Blatt apparently couldn't, or that Lue could get the Cavs to function collectively on offense and avoid the isolation basketball James and Irving sometimes devolve into?

No, no and no.

There's another option out there in Mark Jackson, who built the Warriors into the championship team they became against the Cavs. But Jackson is incendiary for several reasons and an owner like Gilbert, thirsting for public embrace, would cower at the possibility of Jackson's introductory press conference becoming about everything but basketball.

So it's stick with Blatt or turn to Lue, which in casino parlance is a stay-or-hit dilemma for Gilbert in a game of high-stakes, NBA title blackjack.

The Cavaliers owner is sitting on 16 with the team and coach he has now, so he'll probably stick with the safe play and keep things status quo.

What Gilbert should weigh heavily are the two competing timelines that need to intersect for the Cavaliers to win a championship.

On one, James is at the top of his game and the league, but the advance of age and the accumulation of minutes he's played in his career leave him no where to go but down.

On the other, Blatt is one year into his accumulation of the knowledge necessary to learn the NBA and how coaching a championship team here differs from the Euroleague. The assumption is, a bright guy like Blatt is ascending in that regard.

So will James' inevitable descent and Blatt's hoped-for ascent intersect in time to end Cleveland's 51-year professional sports championship drought?

That's what Gilbert must decide.

The Cavaliers clearly wouldn't hesistate to upgrade a perceived deficiency in three-point shooting, rebounding or any other aspect of on-the-court performance, so why would a perceived coaching deficiency be treated differently?

Because Blatt is signed through the 2016-17 season and owed the balance of his $10 million contract over the next two years?


As long as patrons are lining up to give Gilbert their money at his casinos in Cleveland, Cincinnati and Detroit, he'll be able to afford as many ex-coaches as he can jettison. And even if Gilbert's casinos closed tomorrow, James' return made the Cavaliers' value soar overnight to the point where Gilbert likely can't ever outspend in chasing a championship what having James on the roster means to the franchise's bottom line.

Gilbert has the money to afford a change in coaches.

The question lingers as to whether he has the motivation.

And if so, whether he has the courage.


Bruce Hooley hosts "The Bruce Hooley Show" from 5-7 p.m. weekdays on ESPN 850 WKNR. He is the author of, “That’s Why I’m Here: The Chris and Stefanie Spielman Story.”

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The Cavs' valiant, improbable run comes to a painful end on their home court

Jun 17, 2015 -- 1:12am

By Bruce Hooley |



CLEVELAND -- You can know the last breath is coming at the end of an inevitable and unrelenting struggle, and yet it still stings when that moment of crushing finality arrives.

It felt that way Tuesday night as the Cavaliers' valiant and improbable advance to the NBA Finals wound painfully toward the finish in a 105-97 Game 6 loss to the Golden State Warriors at Quicken Loans Arena.

Just one week ago, as this same building throbbed and pulsed throughout the Cavs' 96-91 Game 3 victory, the delicious prospect of securing the Larry O'Brien Trophy in front of another packed house on this very night hung out there in dreamland.

That possibility took a debilitating turn with a Warriors' blowout in Game 4 that squared the Series, then sank deeper into the abyss with a late loss in Game 5 that left the Cavs' hopes on life support.

Already depleted by injury, and overextended physically from where their shrunken rotation could reasonably be expected to go, the Cavs were charged with somehow summoning not just a Game 6 win but a Game 7 triumph on the road to finish their championship mission.

What a story it would be.

Except that it was not to be.

Rallying back gamely from a withering Golden State blast in the first quarter, and then again in the fourth quarter when the Warriors extended their lead to 15, the Cavs drew as close as 80-73 with 8:13 left before a flurry of three-pointers squeezed the last bit of life from the comeback hopes.

Or did it?

No, there would be one last beep from the heart monitor, one final sign of life from the unlikeliest of sources, the previously comotose three-point shot of J.R. Smith.

He threw in three from long range after Golden State moved that 80-73 margin back to 92-77 by the six-minute mark.

Suddenly, the Cavs were within 101-97 with 33 seconds left, but the Warriors started making free throws thereafter and Cleveland's hopes were crushed.

Not the Cavs' hopes -- Cleveland's, because that's how it felt to see this team finally out of life after facing and overcoming every obstacle in its path.

The missed free throws, the turnovers, the poor perimeter shooting and every other aspect that played into the Finals loss can be debated, but it's all so much nit-picking in light of what this team weathered.

The adjustments it made when Kevin Love went down in the sweep of Boston, when Smith took a two-game suspension to start the Chicago series, when Kyrie Irving started hobbling with tendonitis, when Derek Rose hit the Game 3 prayer, when Chicago took two of the first three and led by 11 with one minute left in Game 4, when Irving couldn't play twice against Atlanta and the Cavs swept the Eastern Conference's top seed anyway, when Irving regained his health only to break his kneecap on a play where a foul wasn't even called... Think about all that and then ponder the propriety of complaining about the Cavs pushing the Finals to six games before seccumbing.

Sure, the nattering nationally will echo in the aftermath of another failed Cleveland championship bid.

Matthew Dellavedova will get skewered for supposedly vanishing after Game 3, as if a backup point guard suited to play 10 minutes per-night is a fair target when required to play 40 minutes and score 15 or more.

LeBron James has already taken heat for labeling himself the best player in the world. Notice no one argued with him claiming the lable, just his right to say it.

Nothing that happened in this Series refuted James opinion, no matter the comedic Finals MVP vote that went to Golden State's Andre Iguodala.

There's an unwritten rule that the MVP must come from the winning team, so the nod went to a guy who James outscored, 215-98, outrebounded, 80-35, and out-assisted 53-24.

Just imagine the numbers James might have accumulated without Iguodala's oft-trumpeted defense.

Iguodala bettered James in points, rebounds or assists only in one category one single time in the six-game Series, getting 22 points to James' 20 in Game 4.

Otherwise, James outscored him 44-15, 39-7, 40-15, 40-14 and 32-25 in the other Series games.

The rebounding numbers were just as lopsided, with James more than doubling Iguodala on the glass four times in six games.

The assist numbers weren't close, either, but it won't matter in the narrative that James, now that he's back in Cleveland, is no longer the guy who's figured out how to win. Instead, some will say he's still the guy who can't close, given his 2-4 record in the Finals.

All those lectures about how Cleveland should get over its grudge for The Decision, all that posturing which arose when James won the first of his two titles and the first of two Finals MVP awards, all that finger-wagging that Northeast Ohio should just get over it, that layer of James' insulation has worn away in what will surely be a national narrative aimed at his perceived shortcomings.

His offensive efficiency will be bemoaned, his every word parsed and this outcome twisted some how as a weapon against him.

Just turn off the noise and believe what your eyes tell you: that this team at full strength is a much tougher out, and one well-equipped to deliver next season on the championship favorite label Las Vegas has already applied.


Bruce Hooley hosts "The Bruce Hooley Show" from 5-7 p.m. weekdays on ESPN 850 WKNR. He is the author of, “That’s Why I’m Here: The Chris and Stefanie Spielman Story.”

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LeBron masterful again but supporting cast comes up short in Finals Game 5 loss

Jun 14, 2015 -- 11:49pm

By Bruce Hooley |



There's little fault to find with the Cavaliers in the aftermath of their 104-91 Game 5 loss in the NBA Finals, difficult though it may be to resist amid the desperation of the Cavs now being one game from elimination.

The temptation is to point fingers at some failed aspect of the defeat Sunday night at Golden State, but sometimes the opponent just does a few things better or is blessed with greater fortune from fate and the whistles.

You knew this would be an uphill climb when the injuries mounted and the rotation shortened, and so the Cavs face Game 6 at home on Tuesday at 9 p.m., needing a victory to stave off summer vacation and force a decisive Game 7 on Friday.

Fans will have one last home game at Quicken Loans Arena in which to impart their admiration for the Cavs and to inflict what is surely by now a healthy dose of loathing toward a Warriors squad that provides ample motivation.

And it might prove soothing to visit some invectives on whatever NBA officiating crew shows up, assuming it will continue to ignore glaring body contact on James until it draws whistles at the other end.

Despite playing through contact repeatedly without reward, James was once again the best player on the floor. He threatened a triple-double in the first half with 20 points, 8 rebounds and 8 assists, scoring or assisting on 17 of his team's 18 field goals.

But in the end, James supporting cast on the perimeter could not deliver enough assistance to stave off Golden State's balance and the first MVP-type effort of the Series from Steph Curry.

That's the takeaway from a loss that hung tantalizingly available with four minutes left, turning on a few fruitless possessions offensively at the same time Andre Iguodala and Curry located from three-point range.

It's taken five games for Curry to play like he's billed, as the NBA's best shooter, but he finally did in scoring 37 points on 7-of-13 shooting from beyond the arc.

Matthew Dellavedova looked fresher, as did the rest of the Cavs, than in Game 3. Dellavedova was often there, close enough to pull the mouthpiece that Curry maddeningly pops out of his mouth like a puppy's chew toy, but to no avail.

This one came down to Curry living up to his out-sized reputation and James getting too little help, which has been the case in all three Cavaliers' losses in this series.

James finished with 40 points, 14 rebounds and 11 assists and played all but three minutes.

If he's not the MVP of this series, no matter what happens from here, it will be the worst call of what's already been an ineptly-called post-season.

The prospect of a second Cavs' win at Oracle loomed when J.R. Smith offered the three-point support for James that's been missing all Series, but Smith's 14 points and four triples in the first half were all he would contribute. He went scoreless after the 9:20 mark of the second quarter, and in the second half missed all four of his three-point attempts.

Mike Miller played 14 minutes and James Jones 18, but the two veterans here because of their association with James in Miami scored just three combined points on a Miller trey.

Iman Shumpert continued to struggle with 3-for-9 shooting and Dellavedova went just 2-for-9.

The shots are there, but they aren't going in, and if that continues on Tuesday, the Warriors will get to preen. pose and prance even more than normal with their first NBA Championship in 40 years.

Some how, on just a two-day turnaround, the Cavs will have to relocate the defensive energy that frustrated Golden State in Games 1-3.

Head coach David Blatt is grasping for an answer to the Warriors small lineup with combinations that haven't played together before.

The Cavs simply must find a way to hold Golden State under 100 points, which is what happened in the two games they've won during the Finals. When the Warriors have hit triple digits, they've won every time.

The miscommunications and breakdowns Sunday allowed too many layups off pick-and-roll action at the key.

The Warriors 25 assists illustrate the Cavs difficulty switching coverage with a small lineup, which Blatt employed in response to Golden State doing the same.

Timofey Mozgov, who scored 28 points in a Game 4 loss, played only 9 minutes.

Blatt took considerable second-guessing about that afterward, but the decision is completely defensible given the lopsided margin of the Game 4 loss and the there-for-the-taking aspect of Game 5.

James was once again the maestro of the Cavs' offense playing around Tristan Thompson and three guards, or sometimes playing center himself.

The Cavs trailed, 86-84, when James missed a leaning jumper with 4:29 left in the fourth quarter. Iguodala made a corner three at the other end, then converted a layup after a lazy Shumpert turnover and things began unraveling from there.


Bruce Hooley hosts "The Bruce Hooley Show" from 5-7 p.m. weekdays on ESPN 850 WKNR. He is the author of, “That’s Why I’m Here: The Chris and Stefanie Spielman Story.”

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Follow Bruce on Twitter @bhoolz




Running on Empty: Exhausted Cavs fall short in 103-82 Game 4 loss to Warriors

Jun 12, 2015 -- 12:35am

By Bruce Hooley |



CLEVELAND -- The light on the Cavaliers' fuel gauge has been glowing since the fourth quarter of Game 3, so the forboding feeling of an unpleasant eventuality always hung there in the subconscious.

It was easy to ignore when the Cavs kept grinding out mile after mile of their journey toward an NBA Championship, but the frightening prospect of running out of gas looms more fearfully now that the engine has begun to labor.

That's how it looked Thursday night at Quicken Loans Arena, with the Cavs gamely plowing forward and simply unable to keep pace with the faster, fresher, deeper Golden State Warriors in a 103-82 final.

The hope is that several day's rest before Game 5 on Sunday will rejuvenate the Cavs, who sped to a 7-0 lead that briefly inflamed a crowd and a region thirsting for a 3-1 series lead.

Instead, it's now two games apiece and a best-of-three, with Golden State getting two of those games at home.

So the odds are stacked against the Cavs, which should not be news if you've been watching their advance through the post-season.

It's small consolation Golden State massively shifted its tactics, finally acknowleding the error of its hubris in thinking single-coverage of LeBron James wouldn't hand the title to Cleveland.

It's also little comfort that MVP Steph Curry was, again, mostly ordinary until stuffing that stat sheet after the outcome was settled to finish with 22 points.

Deep into the third quarter, Curry had 12 to Matthew Dellavedova's 10, but with the Cavs down 65-62 at that juncture, the summit still seemed arduous to reach.

Dellavedova's cramps from Game 3 forced him to the sidelines in the first half, and James looked himself only in effort, but rarely in execution.

LeBron finished with 20 points, 12 rebounds and 8 assists, yielding the team lead in scoring to Timofey Mozgov with 28.

They received almost zero help from the Cavs' bench, with James Jones failing to score and J.R. Smith an abysmal 0-for-8 from 3-point range in a 4-point performance.

"We didn't make shots from the outside," Cavs coach David Blatt said. "That really had an impact on (James') ability to find seams and score the ball.

"There's a dynamic to that. Like in football, when your defense is on the field all the time, you know your team is in trouble. We couldn't get the ball to go down. We were 4-for-27 from three in a game where our big guys did score the ball."

Tired legs reveal themselves most glaringly in shots left short of the rim. That occurred often in the first half when the Cavs missed 11 consecutive three-pointers and finished the half 2-of-13 from long range, and seemed a problem for James all night, given his 5-for-10 showing at the line.

It's tempting to say the Cavs can't win this way -- with it all on LeBron and whatever Delly and Timo can muster -- but that's how they moved to a 2-1 lead.

Some how, James has to find the reserve in a reservoir of talent and will already deeper than anyone else in the NBA to get back the energy he displayed through the first three games.

"Tonight was the third game in five days, including the trip back from the West Coast," Blatt said. "It seemed to have an impact on us."

Perhaps the Cavs can regain some of their earlier edge by not falling for the fools' gold of that early lead and willingly embracing the pace Golden State wants to play.

The Warriors will be lavished with praise for head coach Steve Kerr changing his lineup, starting Andre Iguodala, and the supposed difficulty that inflicted on James in his 7-of-22 shooting night.

"Honestly, we didn't do much different against LeBron," Kerr said. "We were just more active, more competitive.

And, he left out, much more fresh.

"For the first three games, I thought they were the more competitive team," Kerr said. "It's not just about playing hard, it's about playing every single possession like it's your last. Tonight, I thought our effort took a step up."

It seems unfair -- inhumane, almost -- to demand that same increase in effort out of these Cavs, given what they've already laid on the line.

But you don't have to expect it of them.

They expect it of themselves.

"We're in a three-game series for the NBA Finals," Blatt said. "Six months ago, I'd have bought that. We have to go back to the drawing board, get back to work, continue to believe in ourselves and play the best basketball we can and try to win this thing."


Bruce Hooley hosts "The Bruce Hooley Show" from 5-7 p.m. weekdays on ESPN 850 WKNR. He is the author of, “That’s Why I’m Here: The Chris and Stefanie Spielman Story.”

Email Bruce

Follow Bruce on Twitter @bhoolz




LeBron thriving during the Cavs' toughest test of the season

Jun 10, 2015 -- 1:16am

By Bruce Hooley |



CLEVELAND -- LeBron James and the Cavaliers are living to the letter of his comeback essay.

No matter how many years it takes off your life.

In the NBA Finals, just like James noted about Northeast Ohio in announcing his return, nothing is given and everything is earned.

So while it felt otherworldly to own a 20-point third-quarter lead over Golden State Tuesday night in Game 3, the devil on your shoulder kept screaming that a 2-1 edge in the NBA Finals wouldn't just fall in your lap.

And, boy, was he right.

Much faster and far less enjoyably than it arrived, the vestiges of that 20-point margin vaporized over the fourth quarter's first three minutes, setting the stage for a death-grip grind to the very last second.

Ultimately, it doesn't matter how it ended, just that it ended with the Cavaliers clutching a 96-91 victory that raises the delicious prospect of LeBron and Company climbing within one win of a championship Thursday night in Game 4.

These Warriors, though, faced that very same dilemma in the Western Conference semifinals at Memphis and answered with three straight wins.

And they showed themselves fully capable of that by scaring the wine and gold out out of a throaty, sellout mob at Quicken Loans Arena.

Just when the Twitter jokes started flying about Matthew Dellavedova outscoring Steph Curry, the Warriors took ravenous bites out of whatever seemingly-comfortable lead the Cavs could establish.

That 68-48 edge with three minutes left in the third shrank to 72-55 entering the fourth.

Three minutes later, after a 13-2 spurt, the margin was down to six and the 20,562 sets of knuckles had gone white for the rest of the night.

Golden State drew within 81-80 on Curry's triple with 2:42 left.

Dellavedova's three-point play, a James trey and his steal and two free throws helped rebuild the margin to 92-83 with 51.3 seconds left.

Surely, the Warriors would yield, right?

Remember, nothing is given.

And, so, Golden State threw in a few threes, capitalized on some Cavalier lapses and suddenly stood only a steal of a Cavs inbounds pass away from having a chance to tie the score with 17.1 seconds left.

Mike Miller tossed in to Dellavedova, who fell out of bounds -- but apparently wasn't pushed by Klay Thompson -- and shoveled a pass that Golden State intercepted.

Officials huddled and gave the ball to the Warriors because of an inadvertant whistle.

A look at replay reversed the decision and handed possession back to the Cavs, momentarily removing every heart from every throat.

James crushed two free throws -- he was 6-of-6 at the line in the final minute -- and a Golden State miss at the other end finally allowed a collective exhale.

And so, it was just that easy, which is to say it was not easy at all.

"I've always said the best teacher in life is experience," James said. "That last minute and a-half, we got a lot to learn from."

In what his braying critics will undoubtedly nitpick for falling short of a second straight triple-double, James finished with 40 points, 12 rebounds and only eight assists. Maybe his four steals and two blocked shots will assuage you, Skip.

Dellavedova -- undoubtedly grateful to Charles Barkley for the heads-up that Curry would likely, "kill," him on this night -- offered 20 points, five rebounds, four assists and only two turnovers.

Presumably, he'll live to see Game 4.

Vegemite for everyone.

Curry scored 17 of his 27points in the fourth quarter, the only period in which Golden State outscored the Cavs, perhaps testifying to the tired legs of Cleveland's abbreviated rotation.

"We're trying to make it tough on them," James said. "Those threes Steph had in the fourth quarter, those are the same ones he missed in the first three quarters. He's just a great shooter. We have to continue to wear on him."

James logged 46 minutes, Tristan Thompson 44 and Dellavedova 38 on a night the Cavs held Golden State to 40% shooting, despite a 52% fourth quarter.

Curry shot 10-of-20 thanks to a 6-of-9 fourth quarter that highlighted the Warriors rally.

"We became the aggressors, just like the last three minutes of 
Game Two," Curry said. "For us to win this series, we have to play that way the whole game. We have the depth to do it, at home or the road...We have to play free, have fun and be the agressors if we're going to win this series."

David Lee scored 9 of his 11 points in the fourth quarter and will surely see more minutes in Game 4 as Golden State seeks to duplicate its rally from the Memphis series.

Dellavedova remains the Cavs' Tasmanian Delly, inspiring the crowd with his hustle and a host of timely baskets, none more so than his three-point play in the lane with 2:27 left and the Warriors within one.

"He's huge for our team," James said. "He gives us that grit that we need. He gives us everything until that tank is empty, and then he has a small, little reserve tank that he continues to work through."

Whether James has the same, we don't know, but have to hope he does.

He's now played 142 of a possible 154 minutes in this series, produced scoring-rebounding-assist lines of 44-8-6, 39-16-11 and 40-12-8 and has scored more points (123) than any player through three games in Finals history.

"He understands the moment," Cavs coach David Blatt said. "He understands the situation. He is a big, big, big-time player. He can get it done."


Bruce Hooley hosts "The Bruce Hooley Show" from 5-7 p.m. weekdays on ESPN 850 WKNR. He is the author of, “That’s Why I’m Here: The Chris and Stefanie Spielman Story.”

Email Bruce

Follow Bruce on Twitter @bhoolz




It wasn't "cute" but LeBron leads Cavs to gritty Game 2 win to even Finals

Jun 08, 2015 -- 1:04am

By Bruce Hooley |



In the end, every second of the three hours and 20 minutes of nationally-televised torture was worth it.

LeBron James' spike of the basketball ball and celebratory primal scream made it all OK, made all the countless missed calls and assorted other bad stuff melt away in the exhilaration of the Cavaliers' 95-93 overtime survival of the Golden State in Sunday's Game 2 of the NBA Finals.

The mighty Warriors, the darlings of the oddsmakers because of their 67-win regular season, a historically-great team in the minds of the analytics nerds, couldn't take down the Cavs even with All-Star Kyrie Irving recovering from surgery on a broken left kneecap.

Without Irving and Kevin Love, the Cavs' bench is so thin it would be a relief to look over and see C.J. Miles and Alonzo Gee ready for duty.

But failing that, the Cavs are still OK as long as James is on the job.

The four-time MVP (five-time, if we voted today) willed the Cavs to a monstrous, Series-squaring victory with a triple-double of 39 points, 16 rebounds and 11 assists.

Now the Finals come to Cleveland, with Game 3 at 9 p.m. Tuesday and Game 4 at 9 p.m. Thursday at Quicken Loans Arena.

Bring your voice.

Your LOUD voice!

And leave your sanity at home.

Because we've lived it with them, it's easy to forget how improbable it is for these Cavs to even be here, three wins from a championship.

Some experts said Chicago would take them down, given Love's shoulder blow-out in Boston, J.R. Smith's two-game suspension and Derek Rose's answered prayer that won Game 3.

Undeterred, the Cavs won the last three games of the East semis and then swept past Atlanta with Irving sitting out half that Series.

What other indignity could this team possibly suffer?

How about an overtime loss in Game 1 at Golden State, with Irving going down for the remainder of the Finals?


Is that all you've got?

James veritably sniffed at the amped up adversity, promised to have his guys ready, and then went out and willed them to the first Finals victory in franchise victory.

The Cavs blew an 83-72 lead over the final 3:13 of regulation, allowed a 15-4 Warriors closing run that forced five extra minutes, then shot 1-of-8 in overtime.

And won anyway.

"It's not cute at all," James said of the style forced upon the Cavaliers still standing. "If you're looking for us to play sexy, cute basketball, that's not us. It's not us right now. Everything is tough. We're going to come with an aggressive mindset defensively and offensively. For us to win a Finals game shooting 32% from the field, it's a testament to how gritty we can be. It has to be that for the rest of the Series."

And so, because they say no series truly starts until the home team loses, then it's on now.

And if the Cavs can protect their own house, well, you know what that means.

If only it were that simple.

"This is just a small step in our process to being great," James said. "We can't relax now. Both teams can win on each other's home floor. But when we defend like we did tonight, we're going to give ourselves a chance to beat any team in this world."

As you might expect, the Cavaliers' defensive grit came imported from Australia, home of the Tasmanian Dellavedova.

As he's done repeatedly this postseason, unsung Cavs guard Matthew Dellavedova made life miserable for the Warriors with nine points and immeasurable hustle on the defensive end.

He and Iman Shumpert hounded MVP Steph Curry into a 5-for-23 shooting night.

After Curry's two free throws handed the Warriors a 93-92 lead with 29.5 seconds left, Delly tracked an offensive rebound of James Jones' missed three-pointer and drew a foul with 10.1 seconds remaining.

Delly drained both free throws, mercifully ending the misery linked to three previous James' misses from the line and five by Timofey Mozgov, to put the Cavs in front by one.

Golden State inbounded at its end and Curry sighted a go-ahead jumper, which he air-balled under heavy coverage from Dellavedova.

James rebounded, got fouled immediately, then made one of two free throws (of course), leaving Golden State a final chance.

Out of timeouts, the Warriors raced up court and Shumpert deflected Curry's bounce pass for Klay Thompson to Tristan Thompson.

He handed it to James, who spiked it off the Oracle Arena floor, flexed and screamed in exultation.

"Every game, you feel his energy," Mozgov said of the Cavaliers' leader. "You can feel how hard he plays."

You better believe Golden State feels it now. Its strategy of playing James one-on-one and limiting his supporting cast ultimately failed, even though James supporting cast was pretty pedestrian offensively.

J.R. Smith scored 16 points, but shot 5-for-13 and negated whatever good he did with some of the dumbest fouls in NBA Finals history.

Shumpert and Thompson combined for less than 10 points for the second straight game.

James Jones showed why his teammates call him "The Champ" with eight welcome first-half points.

Only Mozgov had much of a game offensively, playing like a monster again with 17 points and 11 rebounds. Golden State has no answer for him, unless it's Cavs coach David Blatt, who benched Mozgov the entire fourth quarter and all of overtime.

And yet somehow the Cavs survived to wrest home court away and confound the experts anticipating a Warriors walkover in the wake of Irving's exit.

"All we can do is go out and play hard," James said. "We're undermanned. We're without two All-Stars. I don't know any other team in this league that would be able to do that. Be without two All-Stars from their team, compete and be a force. Our guys are taking that very personal."

So is James, who played all but three of the 53 minutes in Game Two.

Can it, and can he, continue in this fashion?

"There's a maximum of only five games left in the NBA season," James said. "I'm ready for whatever."

At this point, who isn't?


Bruce Hooley hosts "The Bruce Hooley Show" from 5-7 p.m. weekdays on ESPN 850 WKNR. He is the author of, “That’s Why I’m Here: The Chris and Stefanie Spielman Story.”

Email Bruce

Follow Bruce on Twitter @bhoolz




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