Last May, David Blatt led Maccabi Electra Tel Aviv, a Israeli professional basketball team, to an overtime victory over Real Madrid to take the Euroleague Championship. Shortly thereafter, Blatt was swooped up by the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers, whose management outfitted his roster with otherworldly players, including LeBron James, who came back home from Miami (vomit; brought to you by Sprite), to play alongside guard Kyrie Irving, who’s handles are just downright sick, if not illegal (he travels with the best of them).
The Cavs also traded for Kevin Love from Minnesota and later signed spark-plug J.R. Smith of the New York Knicks, whom Blatt called a “godsend” in February. In Thursday’s game 3 in Boston, both Love (23 points, 9 rebounds) and Smith (15 and 5) were instrumental in helping the Cavs to victory over the Boston Celtics to take a 3-0 lead in the best-of-seven series.
No team in NBA history has ever come back from a 3-games-to-none deficit—the Celtics, despite some hoping, wouldn’t be the first—as the Cavs took a relatively lopsided contest on Sunday to close out the series sweep.
But the deciding game in the Cavs’ opening-round victory over the Celtics—Blatt’s first playoff series win as an NBA head coach—was ugly, and Love and Smith were at the center of it.
In the first quarter, Celtics center Kelly Olynyk ripped at Love’s shoulder as they battled for a rebound, and dislocated Love’s shoulder. Love left the game for treatment and his status remains uncertain.
Love believes that Olynyk injured him “on purpose,” calling the Olynyk’s play “bush league.” Olynyk has said that it was accidental. Smith, meanwhile, delivered a roundabout sockdolager in the third quarter to the face of Celtics forward J.R. Crowder, who also injured his knee on the play.
Smith was slapped with a fragrant-2 foul, resulting in his ejection from the game and a likely suspension from a further contest (if not more).
Smith’s offense came after the Cavs’ Kendrick Perkins, a former Celtics intimidator, felled Crowder with a push to the neck on an illegal screen.
After the game, Blatt, who in 2013 said that he looks at his players as “modern-day gladiators,” was asked to assess his team’s “poise.”
“We could have done better,” he said.
Jonathan Zalman is a writer and teacher based in Brooklyn.