Fitting that David Blatt is exposing himself as a less-than-stellar option for an NBA coach, leaving assistants to prevent him from calling timeouts he didn’t have or drawing up plays that has the best player as an inbounds pass.
It’s fitting LeBron James is having to trudge through the Eastern Conference playoffs with one co-star severely hobbled and another out for the entire run with a bad shoulder.
“It’s huge. We didn’t have any timeouts and we didn’t want to get a T,” James said. “That’s why we’re a unit, that’s why we’re a team. Players make mistakes and coaches make mistakes. And we have to cover for one another. (Assistant coach Tyronn) Lue did that by covering for Blatt and I just tried to cover for my guys on the floor.”
Because for all his work to orchestrate which teammates would join him in his return to Cleveland and which guys would be jettisoned out, James again finds himself in a similar position — staring down the barrel of a team with multiple weapons, a re-emerging star of its own and a player determined to make every step for him as grimy and difficult as possible — alone.
[SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans!]
That feeling where the life leaves your body — where muscles turn to mush, where fans’ screams of joy turn to open-mouthed gasps of anguish? James transferred those emotions to the Bulls players and their fans with the stroke of one fadeaway jumper, a game-winner that probably was more debilitating to the Bulls than Friday’s Derrick Rose shot energized the city and franchise.
“I wanted to get a good look. I faked like I wanted to go for the lob and bounced back to the left corner and took a shot I was comfortable taking,” James said. “It’s a huge win for our group, it means more than just a win for our young group. For us to come into a hostile environment was huge.”
If not for the officials review and extra time to draw a play James made sure to scrap from the jump, the player-coach was blunt and truthful about what would’ve happened anyways.
“We would’ve been prepared. I would’ve made sure our guys were in the right position to get a good look,” James said. “In that situation I can get loose and get a good look no matter who’s on me.”
“To be honest the play that was drawn up, I scratched and told coach just give me the ball. And we’re either gonna go into overtime or I’m gonna win it for us. It’s that simple.”
In the words of in-game performer and Chicago native Kanye West, “no one man should have all that power.”
Of course, James’ talent is unmatched, but the task of trying to get through the East to the Finals for a fifth straight time is starting to wear on him. Larry Bird’s body broke down. Magic Johnson couldn’t do it. Michael Jordan retired (twice) before his body and spirit had a chance to betray him.
James, looking at the supporting cast in Miami compared to what he could put together as de-facto general manager back in Cleveland, made the calculated decision to head back north, seeing a budding all-star in Kyrie Irving, a No. 1 pick in Andrew Wiggins who could be used as leverage, and plenty other pieces that could be used on the floor or as trade bait as opposed to an aging core in Miami led by his buddy Dwyane Wade.
With Irving’s effectiveness a serious question mark and James being unaware if Irving could muster Wade-like performances while playing through pain, he’s right back to where he started—only this time he’s being forced to depend on the likes of the combustible J.R. Smith, who actually helped save James in the fourth quarter with 11 points.
While James is finding out the toughness his teammates possess, an inexperienced team is learning and growing on the job, quite rapidly.
[RELATED: Cavaliers stand behind ailing Kyrie Irving]
“The kid is a warrior,” said James of Irving. “What he’s gone through right now nobody can relate. He’s played 48 minutes on a sore foot the last two games. Just his presence on the floor, no matter if he’s playing on one foot, you have to account for him because he can make shots. It goes a long way, it’s not just about basketball what this kid is doing for our team right now. He’s giving us everything he’s got and that’s all we can ask for.”
The James explosion hasn’t happened, which should give Bulls that same sinking feeling that was in the pit of their stomachs leaving Game 4. With Jimmy Butler hounding him, he’s shooting just 37.7 percent from the field, which would qualify as his lowest since the 2007 NBA Finals, a four-game sweep from the San Antonio Spurs and the 2008 Eastern Conference Semifinals, a seven-game loss to the Boston Celtics, a team whose defense was engineered by Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau.
“If I get one game where we shoot 50 percent, we might be able to do some things,” James said. “For seven straight years I’e raised it and I take that seriously. I also know that some challenges present different ways of winning. I know my point guard is hobbled and other all-star is out for the season. Shot attempts, efficiency, I want to be efficient but it’s not happening in this series now. I want to do the other things.”
He’s going to the glass, with 11.2 rebounds, and dishing it out to the tune nine assists per game. So much of the Cavaliers’ fortunes rely in his capable hands and despite his turnovers, offensive fouls and moments where he looks more human than bionic—he’s still the most impactful player in this series.
And if you didn’t, you probably had your mouth wide open, gasping at that fadeaway, because even all alone, you’d still better fear him.