Kurt Helin

LeBron James, David Blatt

LeBron James says coach Blatt only facing criticism “because he’s coaching me”

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LeBron James is as calculating and polished a player interview as you will find in any sport (and most politicians). He’s been in the national spotlight since he was 16, and he gets it — he doesn’t say things on accident.

So when he said this about the final shot of Game 4:

“To be honest, the play that was drawn up, I scratched it. I just told coach ‘Give me the ball.’ We’re either going to go to overtime or I’m going to win it for us. It was that simple.”

It was clearly a shot at coach David Blatt. LeBron wasn’t even asked directly about the play design; he volunteered that up to throw Blatt under the bus. Combine that with Blatt almost calling a timeout when the Cavs didn’t have one and you can be sure Blatt’s job is not secure.

You can also be sure LeBron was going to backtrack some on Monday — he doesn’t want to be seen as a coach killer. Here are LeBron’s Monday quotes, via Dave McMenamin of ESPN and Rick Noland of the Elyria Chronicle-Telegram (hat tip http://hoopshype.com/rumors.htm).

Blatt deserves some criticism — and some praise. He has made some bad decisions in this series, the last play call being at the top of the list (in Europe it is common for the best player to inbound the ball, but you can’t do that with LeBron, you need his shot or at least his gravity to open up someone else). However, he’s made some good defensive calls (like finally putting Iman Shumpert on Derrick Rose and LeBron on Jimmy Butler last game).

If you want to believe Blatt and LeBron are all good, you go right ahead. We are a nation of ideas. If you want to believe that the moon landing was faked and that our government is savvy enough to keep an alien spacecraft at Area 51, you can believe those things, too.

Personally, I don’t think LeBron has called out Blatt twice during the playoffs on accident. But I do think he wants to protect his image.

DeAndre Jordan laughs off post-game question about hack-a-Jordan (VIDEO)

Houston Rockets v Los Angeles Clippers - Game Four
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LOS ANGELES — DeAndre Jordan had answered another question Sunday night about the hack-a-Jordan that the Rockets went to early and often in Game 4 — 14 times Jordan was intentionally fouled in the first half, sending him to the line a record 28 times before the break.

“I didn’t really know how many I was shooting,” Jordan said. “I was just trying to make as many as I could for our team, and on the other end just try to get as many stops as I could in a row. In that stretch, they scored a little bit, but we were able to get stops and cut their lead a little bit in the first quarter.”

But the second time he was asked about it, he thought it was funny, and tried to do some kind of George Costanza walk off. Blake Griffin got him to at least throw a cliche out first.

The strategy made it a painful first half to watch, and in the end the hacking ended up throwing off the Rockets’ rhythm more than the Clippers. Los Angeles rebounded quite nicely, thank you very much, and now are in command of the series

Playoff tensions lead to question: Will David Blatt coach Cavaliers next season?

Cleveland Cavaliers v Los Angeles Lakers
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LeBron James was not asked about it directly, he volunteered the information that he overruled Coach David Blatt to get his game-winning shot on Sunday.

To be honest, the play that was drawn up, I scratched it. I just told coach ‘Give me the ball.’ We’re either going to go 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’s no way I’m taking the ball out unless I could shoot it over the backboard and go in. So, I told him to have somebody else take the ball out and get out of the way,” LeBron said. 

That’s not the first time these playoffs LeBron has publicly thrown his coach under the bus. After the Cavaliers’ Game 1 loss to the Bulls, LeBron said Chicago was “exploiting us with our coverage” and that was a key reason for the downfall.

All of that follows a season of what ESPN’s Brian Windhorst cleverly called “a giant game of passive-aggressive theater” between the coach and his star player. Blatt came in wanting to install a motion-based offense and eventually had to scrap it and go with something more conventional in part because there was no buy-in from LeBron. That dynamic has been there all season long.

Throw in that LeBron is the most powerful person in the Cavaliers organization, and you have to wonder:

Will David Blatt be back to coach the Cavaliers next season?

Right now it doesn’t feel like it.

Blatt was hired before owner Dan Gilbert and the Cavaliers realized LeBron was serious about returning to his home after four years in Miami. Blatt was seen as an offensive genius who could spend years developing a young team — one that would have top pick Andrew Wiggins — and get them to buy into and grow into what he wanted to do.

Then LeBron instantly changed everything about the Cavaliers’ season. Especially the expectations.

Blatt — who had won big in Europe and had plenty of sideline experience — had to learn the NBA way while in a fishbowl. He’s still learning some of the basics, as evidenced by his attempt to call a timeout late in Game 4 Sunday when the Cavaliers were out of them. If the officials had seen Blatt before Tyronn Lue had grabbed him, LeBron might have never had the chance at his game winner.

Blatt and LeBron — and the rest of the Cavaliers’ players — have had an up-and-down relationship over the course of the season. At times, LeBron has praised his coach, other times the tension has been evident. LeBron has been the one calling plays at times — although if you have the best player on the planet, a high IQ player, you should let him call plays. Ttheir relationship started out slowly and with the way LeBron has acted during the playoffs, you have to wonder how far it’s come. That said, Blatt has grown more comfortable with the NBA game as the season has gone on, and he’s made moves — such as adjusting the Cavaliers’ defensive systems after the trades to bring in Timofey Mozgov and Iman Shumpert mid-season — that helped fuel the Cavaliers’ second half run.

How well the Cavaliers do the rest of these playoffs will play into what happens to Blatt — can you really let a coach go of a team that makes the Finals?

But the biggest say will be LeBron’s.

Based on what LeBron has said during the playoffs, Blatt could be one and done as an NBA guy. If a change is made, it will not be framed by the organization as LeBron’s call, they will shield him. Then a guy with more of an NBA background the players trust — maybe lead assistant Lue? He’s popular with the players — could step into the big chair next season.

This summer in Cleveland will be very interesting.

DeAndre Jordan took out frustrations on rim with monster dunks (VIDEO)

Houston Rockets v Los Angeles Clippers- Game Four
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LOS ANGELES — When DeAndre Jordan was getting intentionally fouled 14 times in the first half Sunday night, you could see him roll his eyes a few times. He was a little frustrated.

In the second half, he took out those frustrations on the rim. And the Rockets. You can see the results above.

“I didn’t really know how many I was shooting,” Jordan said. “I was just trying to make as many as I could for my team, and on the other end just try to get us as many stops as I could in a row.”

Jordan finished with a team-high 26 points (he was 14-of-34 from the free throw line). The Clippers picked up an easy 128-95 win and have a commanding 3-1 series lead.

It wasn’t pretty, but Clippers rout Rockets again to take commanding 3-1 series lead

DeAndre Jordan, Trevor Ariza, Josh Smith, Pablo Prigioni
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LOS ANGELES — This game was ugly.

Not only because of the parade to the free throw line in the first half — the Clippers shot 44 free throws in the first 24 minutes, DeAndre Jordan had 28 of them — but also because by the fourth quarter the Clippers were just clowning the Rockets. Well, maybe Clippers fans didn’t find that hard to watch.

Houston has struggled all series to get stops against Los Angeles. On Sunday night only one defensive strategy worked for the Rockets — foul Jordan intentionally. They did that 14 times in the first half, making the game about as entertaining as a video of a clock ticking.

“Well, we got Dwight (Howard) in foul trouble, got in foul trouble right away…” Rockets’ coach Kevin McHale said, referring to Howard picking up two fouls in the first 3:40 of the game. “We were just trying to see if we could muck up the game a little bit. We didn’t. We came back in, and we kind of had to play small, so we thought maybe we could just get them out of a rhythm a little bit.”

It seemed to throw the Rockets off their rhythm more. But at least that defensive strategy sort of worked — those 14 possessions the Rockets outscored the Clippers 11-10 (according to Kevin Pelton of ESPN).

The problem is when the Rockets stopped doing that in the second quarter the Clippers instantly went on a 9-0 run because they continued to get stops, get out and run, and then tear up Rockets poor transition defense. Then the Clippers came out in the second half and opened it on a 21-4 run, to push their lead north of 20 points —  Jordan pitched in and took his frustrations out on the rim with dunks. The Clippers grabbed 8 offensive rebounds (on 12 missed shots), scored 43 points, and had 103 points total after three quarters.

The game was all but over. So is the series. The Clippers won Game 4 128-95, and now lead the series 3-1.

It is clear the Clippers are the superior team. The Rockets do not have the defense to hang — and Patrick Beverley was not going to solve this problem, nor was Donatas Motiejūnas or K.J. McDaniels (all out injured). On Sunday night 55.7 percent of the Clippers shots were uncontested, according to the NBA’s player tracking data. The Clippers had the best offense in the NBA in the regular season and, even with a hobbled Chris Paul, the Rockets have no answers to slow it. Outside of fouling. Jordan hit 14 free throws (on 34 attempts) on his way to 26 points.

“I think both teams lost their rhythm for a while, so that’s the problem with it,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said of the second quarter fouling spree. “Especially if you’re then or us, teams that run, teams that like motion. It turns it into a half-court game, and, you know it allows us to set our defense.”

“Yeah, we’re not really moving,” the Rockets’ James Harden said (he had 21 points and got to the free throw line 10 times). “We’re not really moving on the offensive end. We’re pretty much stagnant, so it makes it easier for them to kind of load up and play their normal defense.”

That defense was good enough in the decisive third quarter to hold the Rockets to 33.3 percent shooting — and then the Clippers ran off the misses. They ran to the run and they ran to the arc. The Clippers put up 43 points in the third quarter with J.J. Redick leading the way with 15 points and hitting 4-of-4 from three.

The fourth quarter was simply a party for Clippers fans, who are about to see their team reach the Conference Finals for the first time in franchise history. The only thing those fans enjoyed more than the alley-oop dunks in the second half was seeing Dwight Howard get ejected for throwing the ball at the referee’s feet after picking up his sixth foul.

While the Rockets have struggled to slow the Clippers, Los Angeles has found ways to reign in Houston. Put simply, James Harden is the only real shot creator off the dribble and the Clippers have done a good job of not letting him get to the line — on every drive they put their arms straight up and seem to give a little ground. The goal is not to get the call, although Harden thinks the refs are just missing the calls.

“I’ve got a couple scratches on my arms to show you,” Harden said when asked about the Clippers’ defense.

The Rockets players said all the right things about needing to be more focused at home, to bring a better effort in the third quarter, and a host of other cliches.

But unless they find some defense back in Houston, by Wednesday they could be making tee times.