LeBron was everything in Game 2 but David Blatt showed the Cavs can win without key pieces as Cleveland topped the Warriors 95-93 in overtime.
The deal for David Blatt was simple. If LeBron James could keep being superman, the Cavaliers coach would find a way to deliver the Justice League of America…and Canada, and Russia, and Australia. Everyone knew this series was going to be tough for the Cavs at full strength. Down Kevin Love since the end of the first round, the chances of lifting Larry O’Brien already weren’t fantastic before Kyrie Irving was lost to a season ending injury in Game 1 of these NBA Finals.
All David Blatt had was the greatest athlete on the planet and the island of misfit mascots as his supporting cast. At least that’s what the panicked reaction would be when a team playing against a loaded outfit like the Dubs in the Finals is down its second and third options. Cleveland needed to adjust with the odds stacked heavily against them. Enter the Mozgov.
Russia’s Timofey Mozgov was simply stellar through the worst offensive quarter of basketball for either side in these playoffs. In the third, with LeBron finally getting some rest, the big man in the middle took over. Jeff Van Gundy was asking how long Cleveland could play with two bigs on the floor, with Mozgov and Tristan Thompson essentially removing all space from the game. In truth, the Cavs effectively played with three bigs at times such is the size difference between LeBron and most of Golden State’s line-up. With 17 points and 11 boards, Mozgov was the second option Cleveland needed and more importantly he was able to essentially fill in for the King on spot duty. If LeBron needed a breather, the more athletic than he looks Russian was there to keep the Warriors thinking.
This was straight-up Blatt-ball. His reaction to being beaten by the Warriors going small wasn’t to try to match them straight up, it was to double-down on power and utterly gas his own team on defence. Matthew Dellavedova’s role defined this. Anything he did on O was seen as a bonus, the Aussie was taking the minutes that previously belonged to Irving but there was no way he would work as a direct replacement. Delly didn’t need to run the offence, LeBron had that covered, the Aussie was there to end Steph Curry as a relevant threat in this game and he did so all night long. It was a fantastic defensive performance from a man who went undrafted two years ago. The couple of floaters he added in the fourth were useful but his role was to ruin the game of basketball for one man and he got it done.
Tristan Thompson was also a non-factor offensively but, like Delly, his D was critical to the final outcome. Even JR Smith’s unique approach to the game was crucial to Cleveland’s victory. Blatt knew the Warriors expected everything to run through LeBron, and a whole lot did, but he realised what a lot of smart people have over the past few months. JR jacking from anywhere is a viable second option even if he misses most of his shots. What the most over-confident shooter in the game gave Cleveland was enough of a threat and ample variety in their offence to give LeBron space when he needed it. Most of the time, this was tight and dirty but JR was the means to open the door just enough.
And then, of course, there was the greatest player of any sport on the planet right now. David Blatt may never control LeBron James but he most certainly has built a partnership with him and one that the King respects. LeBron did his part, 39 points, 16 rebounds, 11 assists. He is there to make all those little pieces that come together enough to actually matter. It’s a seven-deep line-up right now, well eight if you count Mike Miller’s cameo, and LeBron knows he has to do the big offensive job for the other six guys. There isn’t a lot of rest to go around, there isn’t a giant who can make threes or a point guard who can score for fun to help. This is what he’s got. Blatt is getting everything he can out of that. The King showed that with him, for one night at least, that was enough.