Deep bench proving key to Cavaliers' success

Chris Beaven

Sitting and watching is not something LeBron James enjoys doing.

But the NBA MVP is able to relax much more these days when he sits and the Cavs’ second unit takes the floor.

That group has come on strong, outscoring the Hawks in three of the four games during the conference semifinals -- highlighted by an 11-2 blast to open the second quarter of Game 4.

“That just shows the team that we have,” James said.

The emergence of a strong second unit is a big reason the Cavs enter the Eastern Conference finals unbeaten in the playoffs and the favorite to win the title.

“That second unit that begins the second quarter ... has been terrific for us,” Cavs Head Coach Mike Brown said.

It features starting guards Mo Williams and Delonte West leading the way. But it also gets significant contributions from a veteran bench, usually Joe Smith and Ben Wallace up front and then one of three wing players – Wally Szczerbiak, Daniel Gibson and Sasha Pavlovic. None of those five are putting up huge scoring numbers on a nightly basis, but that’s hardly how the Cavs view their subs.

“We don’t need scoring from our bench,” James said. “They come in and play hard, and we love that from our bench.”

Brown has fine-tuned the second unit throughout the season. This current incarnation came together late in the regular season when he decided to go use Williams and West in tandem to lead the group. They supply the offensive firepower most games.

That’s made the second unit a success but also skewed the bench scoring numbers some nights.

“People have ... said they haven’t given much production,” Brown said. “It’s a little deceptive because you have Mo and Delonte out on the floor. And they could be scoring (a lot of the) points because we call a lot of plays for them at that time. So it doesn’t look like our second unit is putting up a lot of points on the board. But in terms of the activity that they bring to the table, it’s a lot of fun to watch.”

The second unit is anchored defensively by the interior tandem of Wallace and Smith. Those two have played together on three teams -- the Cavs, Bulls and Pistons -- during the course of three seasons dating back to 2000. That familiarity helps.

“We understand the game,” Smith said. “We feed off each other.”

It also doesn’t hurt that Cleveland’s top five subs have combined for 2,141 career starts between the regular season and playoffs. Wallace and Szczerbiak have been All-Stars, and Smith is a former No. 1 overall pick.

Pavlovic started for the Cavs in the 2007 NBA Finals, an appearance that Gibson helped make possible with some record-setting shooting in the conference finals that year.

“We’ve got 10 guys, 11 guys that have started on teams have play meaningful minutes and know how to play basketball,” James said. “We haven’t had that in the past, where guys can come off (the bench) and continue the momentum we have.”

They have it now.

“When you have a group of guys that you know can go get the job done like that,” Brown said, “especially when LeBron’s off the floor, you feel good.”

To read more about the Cavs, visit Chris Beaven’s blog at www.cantonrep.com/blogs