The Bulls’ College of Coaches couldn’t stop LeBron James.
Tom Thibodeau, who actually coaches the Bulls, and David Blatt, who coaches the Cavaliers when LeBron lets him, put their heads together Sunday and did everything they could to help the team from Chicago win. Yet not even Blatt’s mistakes could stave off a Cleveland victory.
That should make anyone who roots for the Bulls very, very nervous.
That Blatt screwed up twice in the final seconds of Game 4 is almost beyond belief. That he didn’t have to pay for it, at least in the short term, is about a 10K beyond belief.
First, he tried to call a timeout with nine seconds left in the game, despite the fact the Cavs had no timeouts left. The only reason he avoided a technical foul for a mistake you’d expect from a nervous freshman just called up to the varsity is that the referees were on the other end of the floor and didn’t hear or see him.
The second mistake defies minimal brain function. With 1.5 seconds left on the clock and the score tied 84-84, Blatt drew up a play that had James inbounding the ball. You have the best player in the world on your team and you don’t want him to take the last shot? Might I see your medical marijuana card, coach Blatt?
This is when LeBron said, No, we’re not going to do that.
“To be honest, the play that was drawn up, um, I scratched it,” he said. “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.’ ”
Mostly what LeBron said without saying it was, “Go sit down, coach.’’ Then he hit the game-winning shot.
At which point, Blatt should have said, “When was the last time I updated my resume?’’
At which point, Thibodeau might have said to himself, “I think I’ll coach the Cavs next season.’’
If Thibodeau is gone after this season, as all indications seem to point to, Cleveland would be a good landing spot for him. James, a one-man executive-search firm, has said he likes Thibodeau. Thibs was an assistant coach for the World Cup-winning 2014 U.S. men’s national team, which included Kyrie Irving. And seeing as how James seems intent on getting his coach fired after the season, there might be an opening in Ohio soon.
I didn’t expect Thibodeau to criticize Blatt following a Bulls’ film session Monday, and he didn’t let me down. There would be no coach-on-coach crime. What would Thibs have thought Sunday had he seen James inbounding the ball with 1.5 seconds left in the game?
“He’s going to make a great play,’’ he said. “You’ve got Kyrie and J.R. Smith. They’re both big shot-makers. With LeBron, his size, his vision and decision-making are as good as it gets. You worry about wherever he is on the floor.’’
As for LeBron’s rejection of Blatt’s last play, Thibs was nice enough to say: “You always take input from your players, particularly your primary scorers. They see something that they think is good. Oftentimes during a game, they can see something that’s there.’’
Apropos of nothing, could you have imagined a player scratching one of Bob Knight’s plays? Can you imagine a player beaten beyond recognition?
Up by 11 late in third quarter Sunday, the Bulls let a crucial game slip away. They’re not done. But when a team wins on the road despite its coach, the other team might want to start wondering whether somebody up there doesn’t like it.
This has been a rough series. Players haven fallen down and gotten up, limping. Pau Gasol missed Game 4 with a hamstring injury, and whether he’ll play in Game 5 Tuesday is unknown. Irving has a strained foot and knee tendinitis. James rolled his ankle Sunday. Joakim Noah looks like 232 pounds of sore. No one is using injuries as an excuse, which is how it should be. The Bulls could have a lifetime of excuses built up on Derrick Rose injuries alone.
This series will be about the last man standing.
The only question is whether Blatt will make sure it’s a Bull. Oh, and when Thibs starts work in Cleveland.