Cav or Maverick?Cav or Maverick?

Blatt ‘fighter pilot’ defense sparks meme

Israeli-American coach likened to ‘Top Gun’ character, after saying his job is just as challenging

Cleveland Cavaliers head coach David Blatt talks to a referee during an NBA basketball game against the Indiana Pacers in Cleveland. (photo credit: AP Photo/Tony Dejak, File)
Cleveland Cavaliers head coach David Blatt talks to a referee during an NBA basketball game against the Indiana Pacers in Cleveland. (photo credit: AP Photo/Tony Dejak, File)

Cleveland Cavaliers coach David Blatt attempted to extricate himself from a tangle of media firestorms in comments to the press Monday, but wound up flying into another flurry by dropping an f-bomb.

“Fighter pilot”

A day after his Cavs managed to tie their playoff series with the Chicago Bulls at two games apiece thanks to a buzzer beater, the American-Israeli Blatt played down any tensions with star LeBron James and his botched timeout call as the clock wound down the night before.

But in the process he ended up sparking a Top Gun style meme by comparing himself to a fighter pilot.

Cleveland’s first-year coach — don’t call him a rookie — acknowledged two mistakes in the closing moments of Game 4 on Sunday, when he tried calling a timeout he didn’t have and then initially designed an inbounds play that had James passing the ball in with 1.5 seconds left.

Luckily for Blatt, assistant Tyronn Lue grabbed him and pulled him off the floor and three officials missed his attempt to call time, and James overruled the play call before hitting a jumper at the buzzer to give the Cavs an 86-84 win to tie this intense Eastern Conference semifinal series at 2-2.

“Good thing I had great guys behind me to bail me out,” said Blatt, who couldn’t remember ever losing track of timeouts. “And then a great player to bail us all out with a terrific shot.”

Blatt said he understood the intense criticism he received in the past 24 hours, though he was not convinced all of it is warranted.

Really, it’s not much different than the scrutiny the former successful Israeli and European coach has been under since the start of a season in which the Cavs were anointed NBA title favorites despite a new skipper and new nucleus.

“Yeah, it seems like that’s par for the course,” Blatt said of the constant inspection. “A near-mistake was made and I owned up to it and I own it. A basketball coach makes 150 to 200 critical decisions during the course of a game, something that I think is paralleled only by a fighter pilot. If you do it for 27 years, you’re going to blow one or two. And I blew one. Fortunately it didn’t cost us.”

The “fighter pilot” comment quickly prompted an internet meme likening the Israeli-American coach to a Top Gun character.

“As far as the play’s concerned, that’s just not fair. Sometimes you go with your player’s feeling because you believe in what he can do. That, at the end of the day, was my decision to go with what he felt,” Blatt said.

James first revealed he changed Blatt’s call on Sunday, saying he “scratched” his coach’s idea.

It’s not unusual for a player to offer his opinion on a drawn-up play, but what made Blatt’s original plan so puzzling is that James was probably the best scoring option available for the banged-up Cavs, who are without Kevin Love and star guard Kyrie Irving is playing on a sprained right foot and sore left knee.

James made it clear he’s not in the habit of changing plays, but he felt the Cavs’ best chance to win came with him having the ball in his hands.

“In my eyes, it was,” James said when asked if it was the right decision. “My team respects me to make some decisions. It’s no different from a great quarterback calling an audible. There’s no difference.”

However, in overruling his coach, James showed that he and Blatt aren’t always in synch. They’ve experienced highs and lows, but the four-time league MVP insists he and Blatt are still learning about each other.

“The relationship grows every day,” said James, who is receiving round-the-clock treatment on a sprained left ankle. “I’ve been with my wife since I was in 11th grade and I think our relationship continues to grow every day. It never stops when you are around someone every day, and I think that’s what it is with me and coach.

“As far as our team, he’s our general, and I just try to be the extension of him on the floor.”

Blatt was quick to point out that James didn’t “veto” his play and there was no disagreement on what should be run.

“He just felt strongly about what a better situation would be,” he said. “As it turned out that was the right thing. Generally the guy who wants the check gets it.”

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