(Reuters) - A trio of buzzer-beaters highlighted an intense weekend of NBA playoff action but it was a bizarre sequence of events that led to LeBron James’s game-saving shot that garnered most of the attention.
Before James bailed out his team with a two-pointer from the left corner to tie the best-of-seven second-round series at two games apiece, Cleveland Cavaliers coach David Blatt twice nearly got in the way of the potentially season-saving win.
With under 10 seconds to play and the game tied at 84-84, the first-year coach walked on the court and signaled for a timeout when associate head coach Tyronn Lue, knowing there were no timeouts left, pulled him back before game officials noticed.
If the officiating crew noticed Blatt’s timeout request, the Cavs would have been penalized, resulting in a free throw for Chicago and a loss of possession, giving the ball back to the Bulls after the free throw.
“Yeah, I almost blew it, to be honest with you,” said Blatt.
Then, with the game tied and referees reviewing a play and only 1.5 seconds left on the game clock, Blatt drew up a play that had James, the best player on the court, inbounding the ball rather than taking the potential game-winning shot.
James, a four-time NBA Most Valuable Player who has been in countless pressure situations, admitted after the game that he overruled his coach before the final play.
“To be honest, the play that was drawn up, I scratched it and told coach to just give me that ball,” said James.
“I just told coach, ‘Just give me the ball. We’re either going to go into overtime or I‘m going to win it for us. It’s that simple.'”
The game-winning shot that silenced the Chicago crowd came two days after Derrick Rose banked a three-pointer at the horn that gave the Bulls a 2-1 edge in the Eastern Conference semi-final.
Game Five is Tuesday in Cleveland.
James, whose working relationship with Blatt has been under the microscope all season, was not about to throw his coach under the bus in the midst of a playoff run.
“Players make mistakes, coaches make mistakes and we have to be able to cover for one another,” said James. “And T-Lue did that by covering for Blatt and I just try to cover for my guys on the floor. That’s why we’re a unit.”
Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto; Editing by Mark Lamport-Stokes