We just experienced another type of “shot” in Cleveland sports. One that actually won us a game and put us firmly back in a series that was looking kind of rough. After one of the best shots in Cleveland sports history, what do we see on Twitter, in the media, and during the television commentary? A whole ton of time focused on Blatt trying to call a timeout when he had none and being stopped before the officials saw it. Another large chunk of time spent on the last out of bounds play that Blatt tried to call and LeBron overruled by asking for the ball. Additional time spent on how it was “fortunate” the Cavs had time to draw up a play while the officials looked at the time left on video. This is just another example of the Cavs media, social media, and national media focusing on what divides the Cleveland Cavaliers instead of what binds them. I am not questioning the fact that some of these things are interesting and worthy of some comment. But I am questioning the way they dominated the post-game talk and social media instead of the fact the Cavaliers won a hard fought game and James made a shot for the ages in Cleveland post-season history.
Let me provide an alternative narrative!
The Cleveland Cavaliers had their backs against the wall today in the hostile environment of the United Center in Chicago. A loss would put them down 3-1 in a series that would be slipping away as fast as an ice cube on a glass mountain. The Cavs have fought an uphill battle throughout this series with an injury plagued roster. The injury rolls have continued to expand and show no signs of stopping. Despite this unfortunate set of circumstances, the Cavaliers and Bulls have put together a spirited and competitive series. The Bulls even decided to join the fun by losing their All Star power forward Pau Gasol to an injury keeping him out of game 4. To gauge this series by “what ifs” based on who is injured or seriously impaired would be an insult to the effort and professionalism displayed on the court in this series.
It is a hard fought series. It is very physical. But, as has been noted many times by coach Blatt, it is not a dirty series or unnecessarily physical. This is a credit to both teams. Both for how well they are coached and how professional they play. This also makes for some darn competitive games that are fun to watch. Both team’s mega stars have now made huge buzzer beater shots to win games.
The Cavs have needed to make adjustment after adjustment in this series. The suspension for JR Smith combined with the large number of injuries has kept the Cavs in an inconsistent rotation. Coach Blatt has needed to find significant contributions from his bench and ways to match up with a variety of adjustments made by Thibodeau for Chicago. The adjustments made by Blatt have, on balance, been excellent and those made for game 4 were even better than previous.
The decision to play Timofey Mozgov for almost 39 minutes, far more than in any game previously, was a brilliant way to create mismatches and keep rim protection in the game most of the time. He was unbelievably efficient with 15 points on only 5 shots and 8 foul shots. He also had 3 assists and 3 blocked shots. His presence was felt from start to finish. JR Smith was given significant minutes but not excessive while trying to get his game legs and wind back after a long layoff. His contribution in the fourth quarter was critical toward bringing the series back to Cleveland tied 2-2. Although some could question playing a hobbled Kyrie Irving almost 41 minutes, LeBron James explained how he always has to be accounted for by the opposing team because of his ability to make shots. Mathew Dellavedova has been used about 16 minutes per game and has been very effective in his limited role. His game 4 performance was probably his least effective, but he has played good defense especially against Brooks, who has been essentially a nonfactor in this series.
The Cavaliers played hard, especially in Chicago. This is again a tribute to the quality of Blatt’s coaching and the quality of the player’s professionalism and togetherness. The Cavaliers have truly had each others backs, whether it has been a teammate or a coach. LeBron has earned the right to ask for the ball at the end of a game and Blatt was happy to accommodate. Did Blatt repeat a near mistake from earlier in the year where he tried to call a timeout when none were left? Yes he did. But his assistant coaches, specifically Tyrone Lue, saved him from that fate by having his back. That is one of the main jobs of the assistant head coach to support the head coach and reduce the chance of mistakes. To act like Lue doing his job was some kind of miracle save is putting too much emphasis on too little. That being said, if Blatt ever tries that again, I’ll be all over his case. But in this game, his excellent adjustments and ability to keep the team in focus during very disruptive times far exceeds any presumed problems in his inbound plays or time out management.
And, while we are on an alternative narrative to negativity, I think the decision by Blatt to draw up a play with James taking the ball out made perfect sense. James had not been able to make shots. Had made multiple mistakes down the stretch creating turnovers that hurt the team. He admitted all of this after the game. LeBron is a great decision maker and should be the most reliable inbounder. So you could argue that Blatt was simply sending a message to LeBron to get his shit together or these would be the plays drawn up. LeBron, saying “No” to that message, called for the ball. Blatt said, “Sure, let’s do that”. LeBron makes the shot. All is good. It is almost impossible to coach a superstar. It is even more impossible to coach a generational superstar. Blatt will get few chances to send a message without his superstar shutting him out. Blatt sent the message. LeBron held himself accountable and answered the challenge. So, regardless of whether I am right about this narrative or wrong, the result was positive and Cleveland is tied 2-2.
And, in case you wonder, I am not the only one who felt a play at the end of the game with LeBron inbounding was the correct play. But that doesn’t matter, if the generational superstar asks for the ball to take the shot, that’s the play that should be called. LeBron was right AND, in my opinion, so was Blatt.
It took a great effort from the Cleveland Cavaliers to retake home court in this series. The Bulls fought hard and showed skill and resiliency. However, their offensive lapses are not unexpected given their regular season history and playoff history this year. That, coupled with the Cavs underrated defense, means that the Cavaliers can expect to see more of those lapses and need to take advantage of each and every one of them. The Bulls will not go away. The series will likely remain tight. But, as I have repeatedly said, if the Cleveland Cavs play with energy and effort they are the better team. They now have home court back and a tiny bit of momentum. Let’s hope that carries through and they can actually field a full team to face the Bulls. I am hoping upon hopes that Pau Gasol is healthy and returns to game 5. I missed him in game 4 and want him back. The Cavs don’t need the Bulls to be injured. Better to win with them healthy.
We come up with pretty good rallying cries in Cleveland. The season started with a great one called “Together” and is finishing with another pretty good one “All IN”. For anyone that doesn’t know, this idea actually was promoted, if not originated, from the Cavalier radio color commentator Jim Chones. Jim is a former Cavalier that many feel could have helped win us a championship if healthy. He has been using that catch phrase all season in his post-game and in-game commentary. Both ideas are intended to bring a sense of solidarity between the city, the fans and the team. It is my opinion that, if you are truly a fan of the Cavaliers and Cleveland sports, we should embrace the concept and move forward with a positive sense of purpose. It is fine to disagree. It is fine to debate. It is fine to be uncertain and fearful this team might lose despite their talent. If is fine to even be unhappy about how things are done and question. But, in the final analysis, for Cleveland to get their elusive championship it is not in any of our best interests to be “realistically” negative and focus on why Cleveland won’t win. For us to break through this wall of negativity and win, WE need to believe. No matter how “unrealistic” we think it is. Why don’t we all embrace the concept? The Cavs are still the better team. We should be ALL IN …………… TOGETHER !!! Try it if you haven’t yet. You’ll feel good believing in what could be instead of what might not be.