The Cleveland Cavaliers ended their regular season last night and it truly was a tale of two halves of the season.
As everyone is aware, the Cavs struggled to get going. LeBron James was banged up and needed to rest his body, while the team got off to a 19-20 start.
When James returned, GM David Griffin sprung into action, revamping the roster with two major trades, and the wine and gold closed out the second half with a 34-9 record.
David Blatt has had his share of critics, both from the national media (who love to pick the Cavaliers apart), and also from the local media, who don’t seem to care for his arrogance, something you probably have to have if you are going to coach elite players.
But Blatt should get enormous credit for fitting in the new pieces, Timofey Mozgov, J.R. Smith, and Iman Shumpert, seamlessly. Many times, basketball teams make personnel moves and it takes time for the pieces to fit together and play well together.
Just think back to when the Cavs made a mega-move at the trading deadline in 2008, bringing in Ben Wallace, Delonte West, Joe Smith, and Wally Szczerbiak.
The Cavs were 30-24 at the time of the deal, and finished the season with a 45-37 record. They were basically a .500 team after the deal, and lost in the second round of the playoffs to Boston.
This Cleveland team hit the ground running after the deal, which is a credit to the head coach, the GM, who found the perfect pieces to fit this squad, and the players who made their new teammates feel at home.
Most felt the key to the moves was Shumpert, an active wing defender the Cavs desperately needed. But he was still hurt when he arrived here, which allowed Blatt to use Smith in the starting lineup.
The much maligned Smith fit like a glove, providing instant offense, knocking down open three after open three, playing off James and Kyrie Irving perfectly.
And Smith was active on the defensive end too, which allowed Blatt to give him more freedom on offense.
No one could have seen the huge impact Smith made on this team, and when Shumpert was healthy, Blatt kept things exactly how they were, and Shumpert came off the bench, where he has been very valuable to the Cavaliers.
However, playoff time is where Blatt will make his bones. And it starts right away, as he is matched up against one of the sports’ up and coming coaches in Boston’s Brad Stevens.
The Cavs have a decided talent advantage in the first round, but what we are looking for is how Blatt reacts and counters what other teams are going to do to keep the wine and gold at bay.
This isn’t to say Blatt isn’t capable of doing just that. He’s had success overseas in tournament play, but we are looking forward to seeing how he manages the playoff situation.
And it becomes more of a factor as the playoffs go on. Remember that Mike Brown could never figure out what Orlando was doing in the Eastern Conference finals in 2008-09. He never tried anything different or couldn’t come up with a counter.
Playing the same team a possible seven straight times brings the ability to scheme and coach into the forefront. David Blatt’s time to shine is right now. The playoffs start Sunday afternoon.