Cleveland — It’s not about the scoreboard anymore.
After the Pistons fell to the Cleveland Cavaliers, 107-90, in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference playoffs, Stanley Johnson and Marcus Morris let loose on LeBron James’ trash talk.
During a timeout, Johnson was walking back to the Pistons bench and bumped into James. Johnson didn’t budge, but paused and continued on his way back to the sideline.
But he took umbrage to the bump — whether it was intentional.
“It’s (fake) as hell. He was walking away and I was walking in a straight line,” Johnson said. “He didn’t bump me; I just didn’t move my direction, so we hit.
“I don’t know what you take from that. I don’t take anything from it, but a cheap shot, a cheap bump.”
Johnson, a 19-year-old rookie, has had to guard James in the first two games, but hasn’t backed down one bit — on the court, or off it in the locker room.
James, who had 22 points in Game 1, was more demonstrative and assertive in Game 2, chipping in 27 points and six rebounds. He also had a run-in with Morris, who started the game and had primary defensive responsibility on James.
After taking a bump from Morris, James complained to the officials and appeared to say some things about Morris.
Morris didn’t mince words about getting into a verbal back-and-forth.
“I know for a fact he wasn’t talking to me, you can quote me on that,” Morris said.
Although both players said there wasn’t excessive trash talk on the court, there was the usual jabbering, which is amped up in a playoff atmosphere.
But when James decided to be more demonstrative during one of the Cavs’ big runs, it didn’t sit well with Johnson.
“I wish he would just talk when it’s 0-0, not when he’s up 16 and already got it going. That means you’re confident in yourself,” Johnson said. “If you believe in what you’re about to do, don’t talk after you made a couple shots. Anybody can do that.”
Of course, it comes across as an indignant rookie verbally sparring with one of the greats in the game, but it’s been a back-and-forth of salvos in the past few days, when James was asked about comments on the officiating from Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy and Johnson’s tough defense on him in the opener.
“Stan has gotten the better of me in a playoff series before, in his Orlando days,” James told reporters on Tuesday. “It’s not about me versus Stan; it’s about his teams versus the teams that I’ve been on. I’m not having an individual matchup with Stan or an individual matchup with Stanley (Johnson) or any other Stan they can possess. It’s about getting my guys ready and that’s all that matters.”
James has played 40 minutes in each of the first two games, heavy minutes for a star player against a No. 8 seed. But the Pistons have played tough first halves and have forced the Cavs to pull out games in the third and fourth quarters.
Johnson sees the attention that James is paying him as an indicator that Johnson is affecting him mentally.
“I’m definitely in his head, that’s for sure. I don’t care if I’m in his head or in his mind or anything like that; I’m just trying to play basketball,” said Johnson, who had nine points off the bench in each of the first two games. “It’s up to him how he wants to react to whatever he does.
“I think I’m in a good place. He had a great night and has had a couple great nights and made a couple tough shots.
“He made two threes, which is not like his norm. He hit a tough turnaround on me and played really physical and I battled physical. He didn’t get any paint touches, but he made a bunch of tough shots.”
With Game 3 on Friday at The Palace, the trash talk doesn’t appear to be waning.