James' game-winner rightfully merits place in sports history
CLEVELAND -- He sprinted away from the basket out past the three-point line to catch the inbounds pass at the height of his leap.
"It was crazy watching the ball when he threw it up,'' said Orlando center
It followed the arc of
"That's a shot you will see for a long time, you know?'' James said. "You watch classic games and you see Jordan hit game-winners, and you go all the way back --
Preceding the shot had been a long deep breath of silence. The Magic had been exactly one second away from preserving a comeback 95-93 victory and celebrating a 2-0 lead on their way back to Orlando for two potentially clinching games. Against that likelihood, this shot that James made Friday may be viewed one month from now as the miracle that swung the championship back his way, back into the arms of his hometown of Cleveland. The people here have benefited so very little from miracles that they didn't know how to believe in them. During the timeout in which the winning play was drawn -- drawn up in vain, it turned out -- the arena JumboTron tried all of its motivational tricks to inspire the Cleveland fans to scream and cheer, but they weren't buying it.
They stood in front of their seats quiet and stunned that the NBA's best team and their league MVP were on the verge of wasting 66 regular-season wins, two sweeps in the opening rounds and a No. 1 seed overall. Scores of fans climbed the stairs to leave the building, so little did they believe. So much would they miss.
"It is the biggest shot I have made in my career,'' James said.
After ceding homecourt advantage and a 16-point lead while losing Game 1 in the final seconds, the Cavaliers launched themselves into this evening with the determination of a champion-to-be. They went up 23 in the second quarter, but it wasn't enough. The visitors trimmed their deficit down to 56-44 at halftime, to 75-69 heading into the fourth, and then on a runner by masked rookie Courtney Lee with 5:27 remaining they had themselves their first lead at 86-84. They were running their offense through 6-foot-10
James was committing offensive fouls instead of going to the free-throw line.
Turkoglu pulled up for a foul-line jumper over Pavlovic that gave Orlando its two-point lead with :01.0 glowing from the arena clocks.
In the ensuing silence, 20,000 minds could easily be read. A 2-0 deficit ... a loss in the series ... the departure of LeBron in 2010 ... all of this misery snowballing in the spring of what should have been their championship year. It was going to end like all of the other seasons in all of the other sports.
"To have that type of confidence in yourself, to know that there's one second on the clock and you're ending this thing right now, and if it doesn't end right now (you) have big enough shoulders to take care of whatever the outcome is,'' said Brown. "To be able to take that on and have that type of confidence and take that shot? Not many people could do it.''
In the huddle Brown drew up plans for James to curl around Turkoglu to the basket, where he would catch and finish an inbound lob from Williams. But Orlando coach
"I told Mo whatever it was going to take for me, I was going to come get the ball,'' James said. "No matter what happened, I'm going to come get the ball and I'm going to knock down the shot.''
In Williams's mind, the five seconds were slipping away, with no more timeouts to use. He saw LeBron bounce off Turkoglu and separate himself, turning to sprint away from his defender past the keytop like the wide receiver he used to be running a slant pattern. Williams's zipping pass hit his hands just above the shoulder.
"I just took my time,'' James said. "A second is a long time for me. For others, it is very short.''
He talked about how he had practiced making last-second shots as a child growing up in Akron.
"When I caught it square, it felt great,'' he said. "It was in the air, it even looked like it was going in.''
Williams was not so sure. "The whole time, even before (the referee) handed me the ball, I was praying. Please, please God, something,'' Williams said. "I knew he got the shot off. It felt like it took so long to get to the rim. The whole time I said a prayer, like a ten-minute prayer during the whole time.''
When the ball ricocheted down off the back rim, it was as if 20,000 pilot lights had been turned on all at once in the stands encircling the court. James jumped up and down like the child he used to be when he was practicing for the shot he had just made.
"You couldn't hear anything,'' James said after he had scored the last of his 35 points.
The Magic still have home-court advantage, but they have now lost four playoff games on buzzer-beating shots and none of them worse than this. Is there a feeling that a miraculous shot by LeBron James is not to be wasted, that it will be turned into something larger?
Yes, that is the feeling here in Mudville. Mighty Casey did not strike out. Quite the opposite.