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- Israeli American basketball player, coach and executive
CLEVELAND – On his walk out of the news conference and back to his office on Wednesday night, one of the senior management team's teenage kids stopped to ask David Blatt: Did they ask you why LeBron wore the headband again?
So, the coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers stood in a corridor of Quicken Loans Arena, smiled and said that, yes, someone did make mention of that to him.
"To be honest, I hadn't realized he was wearing it," Blatt said.
Yes, this was the revelatory discovery of the Cleveland Cavaliers' Game 2 revival on Wednesday night, a staged storyline of a headband that included a Jumbotron spoof on the discarded ornament. This is the surreal nature of life with the planet's best player and Northeast Ohio's prodigal son, odes to the mystical forces of a terry cloth crown atop King James that is treated as a legitimate factor for his success.
James had 33 points on 29 shots, a forceful performance in the Cavaliers' 106-91 victory over the Chicago Bulls to bring this best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinals to 1-1. James hadn't taken so many shots in a playoff game since 2009, insisting that, "I had to change my approach. We're shorthanded."
The genius of James is his ability to control everything: the game, the franchise and the narrative of his success. The Cavaliers lost Kevin Love for the season and J.R. Smith to a two-game suspension, and had an eight-day layoff before Game 1 on Monday night. And, yet, when James didn't play particularly well, he made sure to start a public discourse on his coach's pick-and-roll coverage. It worked perfectly, and the Game 1 fallout turned into an open season on Blatt – a risky play out of James given how a superstar's public evisceration of a coach's game plan can reverberate through a locker room and inspire something of a rebellious state.
"We didn't make large-scale [defensive] adjustments, we just executed better," Blatt told Yahoo Sports on Wednesday night. He has come to understand the nature of this coaching assignment, the way Erik Spoelstra had with the Miami Heat. To coach James means getting most of the blame, and a scarcity of credit. For the chance to be a champion, everyone with a whistle and a clipboard would gladly take it.
Of course, Blatt wouldn't dare articulate it that way, but most in the league understand this is all part of the blessing and curse of life with LeBron James.
When asked about the 48-hour obsession over his pick-and-roll coverages – about how a Game 1 defeat had been thrust upon him – Blatt told Yahoo Sports: "We swept our first series, and then we lost one game. I mean, Christ, give me a break. And we're missing 40 percent of our starting lineup. I mean, let's just be fair. We had the best record in the NBA since January. The best record in the NBA. That just [bleeping] happened? That came out of nowhere?"
Finally, Blatt sighed and shrugged. Here was the guy who had won the playoff game on Wednesday night.
"Ah, I'm over that [bleep], man. Hey, people can say what they want."
The Cavaliers will get Smith back for Game 3, but Love is lost. Chicago and Cleveland are settling into a long series, one that promises to get more physical, more volatile in Chicago this weekend. Desperation hangs over this Bulls franchise, and that'll start to play out in this series.
Love rejoined the Cavaliers on Wednesday, after he had stayed away from Game 1. Boston Celtics forward Kelly Olynyk and his representatives have continued to deliver word to Love and people close to him that Olynyk wants to privately apologize to him, sources told Yahoo Sports. Olynyk wants to tell Love personally that he never intended to injure him in Game 4 of that series, that he's sorry for the shoulder surgery that'll cost Love six months.
Strangely, Love continues to rebuff Olynyk. He isn't interested in the call, refusing to ease Olynyk's guilt. For now, Love is a spectator to this Cavaliers playoff run, a player who is probably more missed on these Cavaliers now than he had ever been appreciated this season.
"It's so unfortunate that [the appreciation] has to come when he goes down," Blatt told Yahoo Sports. "Kevin, in his own way, sacrificed the most this season, but still gave us a high-level performance. And he needs to be appreciated for that. And going forward, hopefully, he's going to have a long career here."
No one's sure, including Love, whether he'll ever wear a Cavaliers uniform again. If he leaves for free agency, that'll be another fascinating occurrence of blame within Cleveland. Love has never felt fully integrated, nor compatible, with the group. James wanted him, and it's incumbent on him to make it work.
Someone will get the blame for Love leaving, and rest assured it won't be No. 23. Nevertheless, there's no replacing Love for the Cavaliers. They gave up two No. 1 overall picks to get him, and would have nothing to show for it.
That's a circumstance that awaits these Cavaliers in July, but there's still an Eastern Conference championship to chase now. As for Cleveland's margin of error with these injuries, Blatt told Yahoo: "The best word I can use: minimal." For the coach of these Cleveland Cavaliers, that's the truth, too. A most minimal margin for error.
That's the job, and that's the burden. LeBron James refit that headband, and everyone decided that the King had his crown again. This is the bizarro world of the Cleveland Cavaliers. When they win, he'll be the hero. When they lose, he'll be the aggrieved party. This is how LeBron James set it up in Cleveland, and that's how it'll play out. The King wore his crown again on Wednesday night, and the way he's got this all wired now, maybe that crown isn't so heavy anymore.