Posted Oct 2 2009 5:16PM
INDEPENDENCE, Ohio -- There was nothing Mo Williams went through last spring that Fog Raw couldn't have handled this summer.
Only thing is, Fog Raw, Williams' brash, feistier, very-retro and entirely fictional alter ego, didn't exist until the Cleveland Cavaliers guard breathed life into the Jheri-curled, six-fingered, hip-hop baller in an offseason commercial shoot for Nike.
Still, you think about the grief Williams took near the end of his most satisfying NBA season ever -- all because of some shooting woes at the most inopportune time, in the Eastern Conference finals against Orlando -- and you just know that Fog (Mr. Raw?) would have shrugged it off and shut that smack down.
We just be hyperizin'
While y'all be criticizin'
We just gon' do our thing like every day.
You can't control the style
You think that we're too wild
But we're just having fun every time we play
That's the chorus in the spoof music video, as rapped by Williams, Kevin Durant (a.k.a. Velvet Hoop), Andre Iguodala (Chief Blocka) and Rashard Lewis (Ice-O). Williams' character is the throwback point guard with a handle so crazy, he needs all six fingers to manage it. You see me in the lane, now you don't, I'm the mayor / I'm headed for the rim, Fog Raw get it in... The shoe spot was shot in Los Angeles and Las Vegas, and the four players got the full Hollywood treatment.
"I felt like a movie star. We had our own trailer. We really did -- y'all laugh,'' Williams told a cluster of reporters earlier this week, on the eve of Cleveland's first 2009-10 training camp session. "Everybody had a trailer. The four of us: Trailer, trailer, trailer, trailer. I felt like Denzel.''
At one point, a crew member knocked on the door and asked Williams what he wanted to eat. Whatever he wanted. "I was like, what d'ya mean, 'Whatever I want? Really?'" the Cavs guard recalled. "So I said 'Popeye's.' They went and got me Popeye's. And an Xbox.''
It beat the treatment he got from fans, bloggers and sports radio when he gacked his performance against the Magic. Williams had raised the bar for his critics by thriving in his first season with the Cavs, averaging a career-high 17.8 points and shooting 46.7 percent, including 43.6 from 3-point range. He gave LeBron James' his highest-scoring teammate ever and made it to the All-Star Game for the first time.
He was, naturally, amassing major minutes -- Williams played 2,834 in the regular season, then another 288 in Cleveland's first two playoff rounds (both sweeps). That pushed him well beyond what he had logged in any of his five previous seasons (his personal high: 2,472 with Milwaukee in 2006-07).
So maybe it was wear and tear by the time Williams faced Orlando. Maybe it was Magic coach Stan Van Gundy's determination to shut down all Cavs options not nicknamed King. Maybe, too, it was Williams facing a level of play, expectations and scrutiny he never before had known. Probably it was a combination of all three when he struggled from the arc in the conference finals (6-of-27 through the first four games) and was worse overall on two-pointers (36.8 percent) than on three's (37.5). Orlando held Williams to 38 percent shooting in three regular-season meetings.
Hyperize? He darn near vaporized.
"I don't think it was pressure. I respond well to pressure -- always have, always will,'' Williams said. "It's just, you cannot underestimate [the importance of] experience. I don't care, no matter what you do.''
Williams, whose only previous postseason involved five appearances off the bench (75 minutes total) with the Bucks in 2006, saw first-hand how much bigger, brighter and hotter things get in late May. Adding injury to the insult of his play, the 6-foot-1 guard got elbowed in the face in Game 3, a moment that earned Orlando's Anthony Johnson a flagrant foul but left Williams with four stitches, a couple of cuts and a black eye. It also prompted him into a proud but weak guarantee that Cleveland would prevail in the series. The Cavs dropped Game 4 in overtime, falling behind 3-1 as Williams missed 10 of his 15 shots.
New teammate Anthony Parker was watching and can attest to the shift in, well, everything at playoff time. Parker has only tasted the postseason twice, with Toronto in 2007 and 2008, but his own shooting slipped from 47.7 percent and 47.6 in those regular seasons to 41.9 and 40.8 respectively. Foes lock in defensively, the pace slows, every move and decision gets hyper-analyzed and a few bad plays or missed shots can snowball one's confidence.
Sometimes it's even simpler than that, Parker said. "You go through ups and downs, you go through slumps,'' the former Raptors swingman said. "You remember Ray Allen, he went through the same thing. Unfortunately sometimes, it happens at the wrong time. Bottom line is, when you lose, people remember some of the things that were lacking, why you didn't get the win. When you win, all those things are forgotten.''
Look at Allen's example. The smooth Celtics star took heat after shooting 1-of-12 in Boston's playoff opener against Chicago and again after Game 5, when he went 3-of-8. Then he scored 51 in Game 6 and 23 more in the series clincher. After one game against Orlando, though, Allen again was a "bum'' thanks to a 2-of-12, nine-point night. Yet one year earlier, Allen had shot just 38.5 percent through two rounds and it was no big deal; the Celtics were winning and kept it up, all the way to the 2008 championship.
That's what Williams craves now, a season and postseason to be enjoyed. With a year of adjustment behind him and freed of the onus to be James' designated sidekick -- Shaquille O'Neal will fill that role -- Williams wants to savor the respect and concern the Cavs see in opponents' eyes at tipoff, feeling those targets on their backs each night. All those TV games, the heightened exposure nationally -- heck, globally -- and yes, the endorsement opportunities wouldn't be there had James not hyperized the whole organization to a franchise-record 66-16 finish and NBA elite status.
Even the hard lessons are worth hanging onto. "Looking at that tape, watching those games ... I felt like I was playing at a different speed than during the season,'' Williams said. "Because the game was so big. I wanted to do well. Just something simple: If I'm coming off a pin-down, me going so fast and not being able to get my feet set, I'm missing those shots that I usually make.
"During the season, I'm taking my time and I'm in rhythm. All of a sudden I'm just kind of speeding through stuff,'' he said. "At the end of the day, it just falls under the category of experience. I had to go through it. Those guys, my teammates, 'Bron, all those guys, been there. Me, personally, I'd never been in that situation.''
Now he has. So next time Mo Williams believes he'll be ready. Fog Raw ready.
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