INDEPENDENCE, Ohio (AP) — LeBron James and his scrutinized right elbow remained out of sight on Tuesday, deepening the mystery about his perplexing injury.
Hours after being embarrassed on their home floor by the Boston Celtics in Game 2, the Cleveland Cavaliers were summoned to their practice facility by coach Mike Brown to watch tape of the 104-86 setback that evened the Eastern Conference semifinal at 1-1.
Although Game 3 isn’t until Friday, Brown wanted to dissect and digest went wrong.
“I had a lot to say to the guys about our performance,” said Brown, who was critical of his own effort. “I thought we need to develop a sense of urgency in this series and throughout our run. I thought why not have last night be a good start to that.”
After the team’s film session broke up, James, who will have a third MRI in less than 10 days on his injured elbow later this week, was not seen when the Cleveland Clinic Courts were opened to the media. The team said James was at the facility receiving treatment on his elbow, but there was no visual proof.
On Monday night, it appeared James was hurting.
He scored 24 points but James did not attack the basket with his typical aggression until the fourth quarter, when the game was essentially out of reach. For the first three quarters, he was unusually passive. He played lethargically and stood and watched his teammates.
Usually, it’s the other way around.
James has been diagnosed with a sprained elbow and bone bruise, an injury he said has bothered him for more than one month. In recent days, he has insisted it’s not an issue and that he won’t use the injury as an excuse. But with the two-time MVP at less than 100 percent, the Cavs, who led the league in wins this season, may no longer be the favorite to win their first NBA title.
Brown said he has not specifically asked James about the injury.
“I have complete faith and trust in the players and our medical staff, and at any time if anyone is hurting, I’m in the loop,” he said.
Forward Anderson Varejao, who sat out the fourth quarter with back spasms, is day-to-day. The Cavs said an MRI and X-rays showed no structural damage.
James flexed his elbow several times during Game 2, grabbing it and rubbing his arm during the third quarter when Boston was outscoring Cleveland 31-12.
Cavs guard Mo Williams said James hasn’t complained about the injury, and that he would never play if it jeopardized the team’s chances of winning.
“He would tell me if he was really hurting to a point where he couldn’t play,” Williams said. “He’s fine. He don’t want to sit and bark about an injury. He don’t want to hear about it. He doesn’t make excuses. He does what he has to do to get ready to play and he’s going to play.”
The severity of James’ injury became known last week in Game 5 against Chicago, when he shot a free throw with his left hand in the closing seconds. He revealed afterward that he had undergone an MRI on April 26, and the team said he had another round of tests on April 28 that revealed no structural damage.
A third MRI is planned in the coming days before the team travels to Boston.
Until those results are known, Cleveland fans will have to trust James isn’t hiding anything more serious and the Cavaliers can figure out a better way to contain Celtics guard Rajon Rondo, who followed up his 27-point performance in Game 1 with 19 assists in Game 2.
The Cavaliers also need better production from Shaquille O’Neal. He scored nine points on 4-of-10 shooting in Game 2 and without him posing an inside threat, it allows the Celtics to shift their defense and focus on James.
“We’re going to keep going to the big fella because he’s going to have to score for us down there to loosen it up for the rest of our guys,” Brown said.
During his biting postgame comments about his team late Monday night, Brown singled out Williams, saying the point guard “has got to step up” after shooting 1 for 9. It was atypical for Brown, who said he was simply speaking the truth.
“He’s an All-Star and we need him to make solid plays,” Brown said. “He doesn’t have to hit eight shots in a row like he did in Game 1, but he’s got to be solid defensively and a threat offensively. If you asked him how he played, I think he would say the same.”
Williams didn’t disagree.
“That’s true,” he said.
Williams did agree the Cavaliers, who with the exception of Game 4 in their series against Chicago haven’t played a solid, all-around game, need to play better to get past the Celtics.
“We can’t overreact,” he said. “We know the things that we need to do to improve. It’s a long series. It’s going to be a great series. There are going to be ups and downs, but for the most part we know what we have to do. At the end of the day, it’s about the first team to four (wins).”