|ESPN.com: NBA Playoffs 2009||[Print without images]|
|Thanks to the shooting of Williams, the Cavs led by 29 points early in the fourth quarter.|
CLEVELAND -- Mo Williams was sitting at his locker, icing his knees and ankles, with dozens of cameras and digital recorders in his face. With nothing but a towel wrapped around his waist, he was breaking down Cleveland's 94-82 Game 2 victory over Detroit. He was the man of the moment.
But Williams wanted more. He wanted some of the real spotlight.
"Man, why didn't y'all ask me to go to the podium,'' he said in mock disgust. "I wanted to put my suit on, my tie ...''
The podium, of course, was reserved for LeBron James. Williams had to settle for a half-naked interview at his cubicle.
Sometimes it's hard being part of the supporting cast.
You have to listen to opposing coaches talk about how they're going to double-team James, get the ball out of his hands and make the rest of you beat them.
You have to read about Tracy McGrady saying your team's not that good, even though you had the best record in the league. Translation: It's LeBron and a bunch of average Joes.
You have to live with being disrespected.
"I read the quote T-Mac had in the paper,'' Williams said. "Saying the Lakers are going to win it, saying we're good but we're not great. That don't do nothing but fuel us. It fuels us to get better than we are. We don't get the respect we deserve. We know that.''
The Pistons, run over by James and his 38 points in Game 1, entered Tuesday's matchup vowing to corral the likely MVP and see what the other Cavaliers could do. Done with trying to guard James solo, they weren't going to play the foil in another King James Dunkfest, weren't going to play the witness to any more unencumbered trots to the bucket. They were going to make Williams, Delonte West, Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Co. prove they could do more than hang onto LeBron's coattails.
Four seconds into the game, the Pistons made good on their promise, trapping James in the left corner with Antonio McDyess and Rip Hamilton. James beat it with a skip pass, and soon thereafter, Williams buried a 20-footer to open the scoring and give Cleveland a lead it never surrendered. It was a precursor of things to come, as Williams followed James' game-high 29 points with 21.
Williams thought he'd have a good game, especially after Pistons coach Michael Curry revealed his strategy after Game 1.
"We've seen teams run and jump LeBron before,'' Williams said. "We're prepared for that. I hope they run and jump. Because I'm itching. I'm itching for them to do that because I'm going to knock down shots. That's how much confidence I have when LeBron kicks it out. Pick your poison. Pick your poison.''
James and Williams weren't the only Cavs the Pistons found toxic. West added 20 points as Cleveland's starting backcourt outscored Detroit's 41-31.
"If teams want to play LeBron one-on-one like Detroit did in Game 1, he'll have 40,'' said Williams, who made 8 of 13 shots, including two 3-pointers. "If they don't, he'll have 12 assists, because we're going to knock down shots. We've got too many guys around him that can knock down shots.''
Williams is actually comfortable in the role of the overlooked. Drafted 47th by Utah in 2003, he had to hustle to stick in the NBA. Latching on with Milwaukee the next season, he was regarded as T.J. Ford's backup, despite starting often because of Ford's injuries.
Then, after playing terrifically over the first half of the season to help Cleveland rack up the best record in the Eastern Conference, he was left off the All-Star team. The fact that the fans didn't vote Williams in as a starter was no surprise. But when the coaches, many of whom place huge value on winning when it comes to naming All-Stars, didn't pick him, it spoke volumes.
David Stern later added Williams to the Eastern All-Stars as a replacement for Orlando's Jameer Nelson.
Through all the slights, Williams has kept his sense of humor. On Tuesday night, he was asked how it felt to post career playoff highs in both points (21) and assists (seven).
"I haven't been in too many playoff games,'' he laughed, referring to the five postseason games he played in Milwaukee. "So I'm going to have a lot of career highs.''
One thing that makes it easier to handle being undervalued by opponents and the public is being heavily valued by your superstar. James couldn't understand why Williams wasn't sitting alongside him in the postgame interviews.
"Why ain't you coming to the podium with me?'' James yelled as the media horde descended on his teammate's locker.
"Well,'' Williams smiled and said sheepishly, "they didn't ask me.''
If he keeps playing like he did Tuesday night and helps the Cavaliers advance this postseason, he'll be asked to the podium one of these days.
Chris Broussard is a senior writer at ESPN The Magazine.