| LeBron James and Dwyane Wade each had a part in the Heat's takeover in clutch time in a win over Indiana. |
(Getty Images, illustration by EOB)
Well, you can't say he didn't take the shot this time. Nor can you say he hit it. Nor can you say he didn't.
Since the All-Star Game, the focus around criticism of LeBron James' late game has been about a willingness to take the last shot. Not hit it. But take it. Critics shifted from his ability to hit key shots late in game to his refusal to take said shots. He tried passing to Deron Williams at the end of the All-Star Game (the All-Star Game!). Then he passed to Udonis Haslem in the pick and roll for the game winner a few games later. The idea had become that he was "afraid" of the big shot.
Against the Pacers, in a close game down the stretch, James managed to be everything everyone says about him. He was as good as his supporters say he is. He hit big shots. He missed the game winner. And passed to Dwyane Wade for the actual game winner.
Basically, he trolled the universe. Hard.
Down 81-77 with 1:13 to go, he started making plays. First, the steal and jam.
OK, two point lead, under a minute. Sure. But the Heat still need another play. Like this one. I honestly thought this was a cherry pick at the time, beause James got out in transition so fast. Nope, he just runs the length of the court at that speed.
Sure, but we'll let that one slide because it wasn't to win the game, and it was a horrific foul by Dahntay Jones. It should be noted that he hit the free throw as well.
But all looked for not, because the Heat couldn't get a stop. With 21.1 seconds to go, the Heat could have tried for the quick two to extend the game. But for once, finally, James stepped up and took a shot to tie the game and send it to OT.
Kaboom, indeed. James would pressure Darren Collison into a tie ball on the ensuing possession, and the game would go to OT.
Where, naturally, James missed two free throws and a jumper, as we all went "Oh, there we go, that's what the script says should happen." It looked like James had brought the Heat all the way back to overtime, only to watch the game slip away, until...
So that was a pretty far basketball shot.
Rewrite the narrative! LeBron is a hero, LeBron is clutch, all your memes are dead, right? Not so! James has the chance for the tie. He's got his man in space, he... passes to Chris Bosh.
It should be noted here, as it was ignored when Haslem missed the game winner against Utah (the same shot he hit a few days ago) that Bosh has been exceptional in the clutch this year. This wasn't just the right play, or the smart play, it was a great play. Bosh, for all the criticism of him, has been a monster this year, especially late in games. But it still fits the narrative right? James passed on the game winner.
So what would happen on the Heat's final possession? Would James pass the game winner? Would he shrink again? Be the hero? At least try? Would he need Wade?
All of your clutch elements are belong to the LeBron.
So he took the final shot. He missed. Then he passed it. And Wade hit it. Should have have taken another one? MJ would have. Kobe would have. But the Heat got the win. He's got a player of Wade's stature next to him. What should he have done?
The fact remains that the Heat don't win that game without LeBron James. Had Chris Bosh not gotten that long rebound, the Heat don't win. Had Dwyane Wade not gong "This is my city" circa 2009, the Heat don't win.
Is LeBron clutch?
He's like Schroedinger's Cat. He's both clutch and unclutch at the same time.
Even if James had nailed ten threes in the final 30 seconds of the 4th and OT, he wouldn't be clutch in the minds of many yet. The fact remains he has to beat teams in the playoffs in a close game with shots. Not assists. Or defense. Or rebounding. Or blocks. None of those things make an impact in the cultural definition of a player's legacy, no matter how many "defense wins championships" are uttered. You have to hit the pull-up jumper for the win (or a sky-hook, that qualifies, too), and you have to do it in the playoffs.
But in the ongoing narrative, James showed that he will take, and can hit those shots.
So the conversation will continue, and in the modern age, that's what defines a great player. Because players are dissected far more than ever before, it is the polarizing figures (Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett, Dwyane Wade, Dirk Nowitzki, Derrick Rose) who define greatness. It's more than just being great, it's about dividing people along some line. And right now, for James, that line is the largely fictonal "clutch" perspective. It's as nuts for James to be measured under these conditions as it is for Bryant, and yet, that's who we are, that's where we are.
The Pacers have to feel pretty good about this, though. On the road, they needed a number of unlikely mistakes and Heat conversions to lose. Everyone maintains that the Pacers are a step below the Heat. And they are. But when the playoffs come, whether it's the Heat or the Bulls, either team that overlooks them will run into a dangerous, deep, versatile team that can rely on multiple options and keep the game close late.
After that, it just comes down to what makes men mighty.