The Eastern Semifinals Game 5 between the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Chicago Bulls is a pivotal game for both teams – but it might be the biggest for Cleveland’s Jewish coach David Blatt.
Blatt, the American-Israeli former coach of Israel’s Maccabi Tel Aviv team, is taking heat for the way he handled the end of game 4, which his team stole on an improbable buzzer-beater shot from Lebron James. First, Blatt tried to call a timeout with a few seconds left, even though he was out of them (which would have resulted in technical foul shots and likely the game if the referees had noticed). Then he drew up a play that had Lebron James – one of the best players in the history of the game – throwing the ball in instead of taking the final shot.
“To be honest, the play that was drawn up, I scratched it,” James said after the game. “I just told coach, ‘Just give me the ball. We either going to go into overtime or I’ma win it for us.’ It was that simple.”
This essentially validated what many fans had been thinking the entire season: James, and not his rookie coach, runs the team.
It’s fair to blame Blatt for these late-game mistakes, but the level of criticism that he has faced all season is suspicious. Sure, he’s an outsider – even though he achieved success in the European league, the NBA is on a different level, and many questioned Cleveland’s decision to hire him in the first place.
However, it is also clear that Blatt has not been recognized for holding his team together throughout a turbulent season that saw Lebron get off to a rocky start in his second stint in his hometown and brought untimely injuries to the team’s two other star players, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving.
Will tonight’s game be the important rebound Blatt needs to cement his standing? Or will the Israeli outsider remain stuck in rookie purgatory?