Pacing the sideline in an eerily quiet TD Banknorth Garden, with his team gutting out a small lead, Byron somehow found a way to ignore every instinct a coach should have and went with absolutely mystifying decision after mystifying decision. In one of ESPN’s “Wired” segments, he told his guys that they couldn’t guard in transition. Hubie Brown followed it up by saying they should kick out to guys on the three point line, because that’s the Beaners one weakness. Funny, that’s something we do all the time. Except for last night. You’re going to start seeing a trend here.
That quiet crowd wasn’t going to stay down all night, and neither were the Celtics. As is now no secret, the Celtics went on to beat the Hornets. Some saw in this loss hope. Hope that the Hornets could take the World Champs for half a game, thereafter take their best effort, and still only be seven down late, on the road, with the unerring belief that a comeback was just a few shots and stops away. That may be true. But that’s not really what I took away from this one. I saw it as a tough, grind-it-out game that we could have won. Just as we looked bad because they had a great defensive effort, they looked like, well, a typical Eastern Conference team for quite awhile because of our stout D. That said, I think what turned the tables was our coach lost in the effluvium of his own success and making insane mistakes. It wasn’t a matter of Doc outcoaching Byron. Nope, our COY Itossed this one away with his stubborn rigidity to whatever his master plan is.
The mistakes started before the game. No Tyson, due to injury. So you’re down a big. Logically, you activate your extra forward, Bowen, right? Nope. Instead he dresses new acquisition Antonio Daniels. I mean, I’m excited to see him play in due time, but when you’re 99.9999999% sure has no chance of hitting the floor, what’s the point of dressing him. Maybe Bowen rides the pine anyway, but maybe he doesn’t. Last time we saw him (the only time we saw him), he looked sharp. So I don’t get that one.
Also, the starting line-up. I love that Byron trusts Butler, I love him too. But Mo is your starter. He obviously had it all going the other night, cranking out 16 while Butler was finding rim, so why not put him back into the starting lineup? Even if you don’t, why the hell is Mo riding the pine? He should be your first guy off the bench. But instead we see Devin Brown. Yes, yes, I love that he drives to the hole, but he’s usually out of control, doesn’t always know when he should dish it off, and is a step slow on defense, getting burned by quicker guards consistently. Plus, Mo/Rasual have several inches on him, which, in itself, is a huge advantage. Oh, and a better shooting percentage.
Back to the bigs. Hilton was your starter by circumstance. He stepped up to the challenge; getting several boards, hustling, and with one completely dumb-founding move in the paint. Yet you only play him 25 minutes? Oh, but his stats weren’t great, some will say. Listen, I know you can’t quantify gut reactions, but sometimes you just have to know a guy is feeling it and go with him. Sorry if that doesn’t input on some coaches’ chart somewhere, but you do. For example, one sequence, Hilton gets a rebound and misses two contested tip-ins, but finally grabs the board and kicks it back out. New set. That looks like 0-2 with a couple of boards, but he outhustled someone. Twice. Maybe three times. That should count for something. Plus, everyone agrees he has the talent, but not the confidence. Maybe rewarding good play would help with that. Think on it, Byron.
First in for Hilton, was Ely. Ely was just as effective. Perkins might be having a nice year, but he wasn’t doing much to slow down our fives. So to reward him also, Byron only gave him 11 minutes, while going to Marks for extended time. I saw Marks get yanked once for a dumb foul and once for getting torched for an easy basket. Yet Byron kept going back to him. Sure, he made some good plays in there somewhere, but he never got into the offensive groove and was a liability on defense. Maybe he just still needs to learn the system. Finally, so irate at Marks, Byron turned to Ju-Ju in the fourth. Which, incidentally, was when Marks’ minutes took a dip; to that point they were proportionately much higher than they had any right to be, and thus, significantly larger than what the final number (9) looks like. So it’s at this point, with that much frustration, that Byron turns to Julian? After riding him so hard, Byron decides to throw him under the bus against the Champs in a physical fourth quarter is a good idea? Bonkers, man. What was Byron thinking? Hey, though, no pressure, kid. So, as usual, Ju-Ju made a few good plays and a few bad ones, and was promptly yanked. Come on Byron. He’s young. He’s barely played. What did you expect, him to take over the game like the next Jordan and steal a victory? Yeah that’d have been nice.
Which is my next beef. A) Julian is one of the team’s best defenders. Period. He’s got good footwork, he’s lanky, and is freakishly athletic and quick. B) He is a chaotic explosion on offence that can drive, jump shoot, or catch that funky alley-oop. So why is he riding the bench? Based on his hot performance at the end of last year, even the perennial haters, ESPN, listed him as #10 on its list of sophomores they most expected to explode this year. And that was on pure potential, because they’ve barely seen him play. The man is obviously meant to supplant Peja in time. So let’s get him on the court. He needs to know that each next mistake won’t be the one that puts him back in street clothes. Screw Brown, screw Marks (though I like them both personally). This is a young man’s game. Give the young man a chance. Over time, he might surprise you. Think back to a young, albeit point guard, who everyone said was a liability, and they needed a trade to improve at that position. Tony Parker. They guy they said they should trade for? Jason Kidd, who subsequently got torched by Parker in the Finals. My point? Parker wouldn’t have had that Finals fall for him if he hadn’t been playing. Byron, play Julian. Otherwise, well, you’re just plain making a mistake.
I really had to ponder over this post for the better part of a day, because there were just so many incredulous coaching decisions last night. I mean, I hate to second guess professional coaches, because, well, they’re professional coaches and I’m just a guy who watches games now and then. I mean, I watch a lot of games, but do I know the intricacies of coaching? Do I see these guys in practice? No. So with that caveat, I’m calling on Byron to clue the rest of us in. I mean, last night, rest CP a lot in the first, sure, because he was going to play the entire second (he did). But he also barely played Peja. And when he did, he ran about zero plays for the Serbian sniper. Why? The man had been on fire. Hitting about 45-50% from three lately. He wasn’t as much bad last night as that he just never got touches. Besides, Peja is one of those rare talents that can go 0-12 through 40 minutes and then just explode for 9 points in three trips down the floor and win the game for you. Not many guys can do that.
That kind of shooting, in fact, is exactly what we needed when we fell down by double digits late. Probably a good idea to put in three point shooters, right? Peja? Nope. Mo? Nope. Finally we get Butler, but it’s Posey who’s jacking them all up. I think about the three minute mark Peja finally came back in. Normally I’d be okay with Posey taking open threes, but I’d rather have any of the other three guys shooting them. Let alone Devin Brown, who’s shooting 25%, about 8% below his not-so-impressive 33% lifetime percentage. What is it about Brown that you are so in love with Byron?
So this is a first for me. It’s an anti-hype. I love the Hornets. I am as encouraged as ever that they can compete at the next level. Moreover, I think Byron has the potential to take them there. I really hope, though, that Byron figures something out by tomorrow morning. Otherwise, this could become a long road trip.