CHICAGO — Before LeBron James got the chance to win Game 4 of the Eastern Conference semifinals on a buzzer-beating shot against the Chicago Bulls, twice in the last 10 seconds of the game, actions made by Cleveland Cavaliers coach David Blatt nearly prevented that scenario from playing out.
The first occurred with 9.4 seconds left in the fourth quarter after Chicago’s Derrick Rose tied the game at 84-84. Blatt took four steps onto the court as the Cavs prepared to inbound the ball under the basket and put his hands together to signal for a timeout. Cleveland associate head coach Tyronn Lue quickly pulled Blatt back toward the baseline to keep the coach from drawing any referee’s attention with his timeout request.
Cleveland was out of timeouts by that point, having burned its final two timeouts with 18.8 seconds left when James Jones could not find an open man when trying to inbound the ball at half court. If Blatt had been granted the timeout, the Cavs would have been penalized with a technical foul, resulting in one free throw for the Bulls, plus a loss of possession, giving the ball back to the Bulls after the free throw.
“Yeah, I almost blew it, to be honest with you,” Blatt said after the Cavs’ 86-84 win to knot the series 2-2, acknowledging the intended timeout. “I think we called two or three timeouts there on that sideline out. And good thing they caught it, my guys.”
No members of the three-man officiating crew — Scott Foster, Tom Washington and Jason Phillips — were particularly close to Blatt on the court when the coach made his initial signal before Lue stopped him.
“It’s huge,” James said when asked about the impact of Blatt’s timeout request being missed by the officials. “Obviously, we all know we didn’t have any timeouts at that time and we call one, we get a T. So, that’s why we’re a unit. That’s why we’re a team. And players make mistakes, coaches make mistakes and we have to be able to cover for one another. And T-Lue did that by covering for Blatt and I just try to cover for my guys on the floor. That’s why we’re a unit.”
In January, ESPN’s Brian Windhorst reported that Lue often called timeouts for Blatt during games.
The other instance that Blatt was involved in that could have changed the outcome of the game was him originally calling for a play that would have had James passing it in from underneath the hoop with 1.5 seconds remaining, rather than taking the last shot.
“To be honest, the play that was drawn up, um, I scratched it,” James said after the game. “And I told Coach, ‘Just give me the ball. And it’s either going to overtime or I’m going to win it for us.’ It was that simple.
“I was supposed to take the ball out. I told Coach there was no way I’m taking the ball out unless I could shoot it over the backboard and go in. So, I told him have somebody else take the ball out and give me the ball and get out of the way.”
Cavs backup guard Matthew Dellavedova ended up taking the ball out of bounds. James faked toward the hoop to buy himself a little bit of space with Jimmy Butler guarding him and then cut to the corner, where Dellavedova found him for the 21-foot jump shot that went through the net as time expired.
J.R. Smith was asked by a reporter if there was any doubt James would end up with the final shot regardless of the initial play call.
“It was doubt at first because at first, Coach had LeBron taking the ball out,” Smith said. “I’m like, ‘Are you sure?’ Then he went, ‘No, no, no, no, ‘Bron you get it.’ I’m like, ‘OK, we need to switch it up.’ Once we figured out who was definitely taking the ball out, I was like, ‘OK, now I’m sure he’s going to get it.'”
Blatt was specifically asked after the game if he drew up the final play to get James open for the shot and did not reveal that James changed the play call.
“Yeah, we wanted him to throw it right in over the shoulder and with that amount of time on the clock, let him take a shot and he did,” Blatt said. “Great play.”
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