I have been playing connect-the-dots ever since Coach Mike's odd press conference after Game 5. Here is what he said:
"Q. Did you say anything differently?
COACH BROWN: No. A good friend of mine told me, he said, "Tell your team to see if they can score three layups before the first time-out, and see if that would help." So I told the team that; I don't know if they did it or not, but that's the only thing new that I said to them, "Hey, guys, let's see if we can score three layups before the first timeout." I guess it worked. My friend might have a little bit of insight.
Q. Who was the friend?
COACH BROWN: I can't tell you."
Odd, but not that weird for the man who gives his offensive plays extra-long names so other teams can't recognize the same fake pick-and-roll on the 3rd time in a row it's called. (Oops, gave it away!) But who was that friend? Clearly, there must be a reason why Coach Mike concealed his identity. Was it someone no longer on the Cavs payroll? Or perhaps a veteran player like Eric Snow?
Whoever that friend was, it was great advice. All series long, Cleveland had been struggling against the Pistons in the 3rd quarter. Suddenly, in Games 5 and 6, Cleveland played Detroit even in both quarters (19-18 Cavs in their two point victory, 18-19 Detroit in the Game 6 victory.
Here, perhaps is a clue, courtesy of the NY Times:
“We have a great relationship,” Brown said, referring to Popovich, for whom he spent three years as an assistant, earning a championship ring in 2003. “We talk from time to time. He’ll call and check up on me, I’ll call and ask for advice. He’ll call to say ‘good win,’ and I’ll do the same."
That's something, but really, Brown wouldn't call Popovich for advice knowing that beating the Pistons meant facing the Spurs, right? Isn't that tampering by Popovich, because by helping Brown, he's influencing what team he'll play in the Finals? But you say there's no proof that Popovich was still advising Brown when they were going to soon oppose each other in the play-offs. Wrong!
Brian Windhorst finishes the story:
"Even during the Eastern Conference finals against the Pistons as the Spurs were fighting to eliminate the Utah Jazz, Popovich was serving as a mentor with routine phone calls."
I now am 90% sure that Coach Popovich was that friend. I'm not media, so I have no way of learning the final 10%. But it certainly appears as if Popovich would rather face the Cavaliers rather than the Pistons in the Finals. I'm a Cavs fan, but I still think that was wrong for Pop to help once the Spurs were clearly the Cavs next opponent if they won. I fear that much of the improvement to Coach Mike was also due to Pop's calls of advice, and that the Cavs are now doomed against the Spurs. PuppetMaster Popovich is on the other side now, and he'll give Coach Mike enough string to hang himself with, I'm sure. Anyone disagree?