It’s hard to make the wrong choices when you’re out of options, but David Blatt didn’t help the Cleveland Cavaliers by leaving Timofey Mozgov on the bench for almost the entirety of game 5.
Mozgov played nine minutes and got off one shot. His -4 in the net rating doesn’t really mean anything. He wasn’t on the floor for the second half. Steve Kerr benched Andrew Bogut and erased him from the rotation. The Cavaliers went with Tristan Thompson (playing 40 minutes), feeling he can give them a better chance of keeping up with the Warriors, which was true until the onslaught of 3-pointers at the very end of the game.
Thompson didn’t have a bad game. He scored 19 points, grabbed 10 rebounds, 5 of them on offense. He even made 7-of-10 from the line, which is quite a rarity for a player the Warriors don’t mind hacking and sending to shoot free throws. The one actually failing in that aspect was Andre Iguodala (2-of-11 from the line), but Iggy is so good doing everything else the Warriors lived through it.
Maybe a bit more Mozgov looks, a player the Warriors struggle dealing with, would have helped the Cavaliers. Obviously, this is all hindsight genius talk, but when something doesn’t work, clearly you try and see where things went wrong. It’s not that difficult when talking about the Cavaliers, who are playing without the number 2 and 3 players on their rotation. And still, could have Blatt or his players done more?
Thompson is a limited player, offering no offensive range. Mozgov? He has a soft touch from mid range and is a better free throw shooter. Their numbers throughout this series aren’t that different, and the +/- in Mozgov’s favors tells us something, although it does come with irregular minutes, while Thompson has always been there for the fourth quarter collapses, which could tell us more about the Cavaliers than just blurting out fatigue.
Maybe Blatt didn’t have a choice. With the Warriors playing in smaller lineups that include one guard, two combo guard-forwards and two more forwards, the only player Mozgov can actually defend is David Lee, or maybe Festus Ezeli, who doesn’t really need someone guarding him in the few minutes he’s on the floor. But making good use of him on offense could force the Warriors to change, and give Thompson the rest he needs. Even if he is just 24, everyone needs some time to breathe. Blatt perhaps gave Mozgov a bit too much of that.