The Cleveland Cavaliers beat the Chicago Bulls on Sunday to even their second-round playoff series at two games apiece, this after LeBron James hit an improbable shot at the buzzer to give the Cavs an 86-84 win.
Great story, right? Well, that’s not the end of it. The only reason that sequence happened is because James nixed David Blatt’s original play-call, which had James in-bounding the ball with 1.5 seconds to go.
Was James right to overrule Blatt like that?
“Well, he’s right because he made it, and I think that’s how it works,” Bleacher Report NBA writer Ethan Skolnick said on CBS Sports Radio’s The DA Show. “Like (James) said, quarterbacks can audible on the field, and great players can audible on the court. I do think it speaks to something deeper that’s been going on all season, but in terms of that one particular play, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me for LeBron to be in-bounding there. Now, I know that Blatt did a couple times during the season. He mentioned the San Antonio game where LeBron inbounded to Kyrie Irving late, but Kyrie Irving scored 57 in that game. Kyrie Irving was the go-to guy in that game. Kyrie Irving’s not in condition to carry them right now. And there was a play to Tristan Thompson early in the season where LeBron inbounded.
“But I think in most cases – with that much of time on the clock – you want to make sure that your best player gets the shot,” Skolnick continued. “There’s not enough time for LeBron to make an inbounds pass, get it back and hit a shot. So I have no problem with what he did. And again, it worked out just fine for them. This is a results business, and the results were pretty good.”
They almost weren’t. In addition to Blatt’s curious play-call, he attempted to call a timeout in the final seconds even though the Cavs didn’t have any. The refs missed it.
Is it safe to say that Blatt lacks credibility in the huddle?
“Well, here’s the thing – and this has been going on all season,” Skolnick said. “You got to remember: David Blatt was not the guy who was hired to coach this team. He was hired to coach the Cleveland Cavaliers before LeBron James came back, and that was going to be a very different team. That was going to be an opportunity for David Blatt to grow with the team. This team does not afford him that kind of time or that kind of luxury. I think that David has compounded it some by being very defensive throughout the year – constantly talking about his experiences, reminding people that he’s not a rookie coach. Remember, it’s not the media that labeled him a rookie coach; it’s LeBron who keeps calling him a rookie coach. He keeps using that term for him. And then when the media asks him about his experiences this year being a rookie coach, David gets very upset.
“So I think what we have here was sort of a marriage of inconvenience,” Skolnick continued. “This is not the guy they would have hired to coach LeBron if they knew 100 percent that LeBron was coming back. I think it might have been (Tyronn) Lue. It could have been Alvin Gentry, who was one of the names that was out there. There were other guys who certainly would have wanted this job had they known LeBron was going to be there. So I think David’s been in some difficult circumstances. I think in some cases he hasn’t made it any easier on himself, and it’s going to be a very interesting offseason, particularly if the Cavaliers don’t make it out of this series. I think they will, but if they don’t make it out of this series, it’s going to be very interesting.”
Damon Amendolara wondered if there are some parallels between Blatt’s first year in Cleveland and Erik Spoelstra’s first year in Miami. There certainly are, but as Skolnick point out, there are some key differences: Blatt isn’t working under Pat Riley. He doesn’t have unwavering support in the front office. He’s also quite different personality-wise.
“Erik is egoless,” Spoelstra said. “He doesn’t make it about him. Ever. There’s a story that after they won the championship, they were at Walter Reed after they went and visited the White House, and someone came up to Erik and said, ‘I thought Pat Riley was the coach,’ and Erik laughed about it. David wouldn’t laugh about that. He’s much more sensitive about his standing than Erik is.”
There’s also the fact that Blatt left his family in Israel to coach the Cavaliers, and he’s had to adjust to a culture that he hadn’t been in for three decades. Spoelstra, on the other hand, had lived in Miami for 16 years.
“So it’s different,” Skolnick said. “And the reality is, it really wasn’t until year two that Erik was allowed to coach LeBron the way that Erik wanted to coach LeBron. LeBron finally sort of let the wall break down in the middle of year two. I don’t really know that that’s going to happen here. It could. I’m not completely ruling it out. But I will say that LeBron kind of went out of his way not to criticize Erik publicly even when I knew that LeBron was upset about things that were happening behind the scenes. But LeBron has kind of gone out of his way to take little pokes at Blatt. And that’s very different, even in the first season at Miami.”