CLEVELAND -- Until now, LeBron didn't have a Michael Moment. LeBron James had an MVP and a scoring title. He had all kinds of points and dunks and fans. He had that crazy game in the 2007 playoffs when he scored Cleveland's final 25 points in a double-overtime victory against Detroit.
But only now, with a 23-footer at the buzzer to win Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals Friday night, did LeBron get his very own Michael Moment.
His first Michael Moment, that is. There are more to come. Maybe even in this postseason.
But Friday night when he hit that 23-footer to give Cleveland a 96-95 victory against Orlando, it was the first time that James -- His Airness' first and only legitimate heir -- turned in a single, signature moment worthy of Michael Jordan himself.
In fact, it looked a lot like Michael Jordan's own signature Michael Jordan moment. You remember The Shot? It happened 20 years ago in this very town, albeit in another arena. In Game 5 of a best-of-5 series between Chicago and Cleveland, Jordan hit a long jumper over Craig Ehlo to give the Bulls the game, and the series.
For 20 years, Cleveland has lived with The Shot. Twenty freaking years. This should help that pain go away, this thunderbolt from the gods, or from god. Or God. Or whatever you want to call LeBron James.
"Michael was always the one hitting those shots when I was a kid, so I was Michael, practicing that shot," James said. "I got that out of my bag of Michael Jordan tricks."
James didn't just win a game. He saved a series, and a season. You do know that, right? If James doesn't make that shot, Cleveland doesn't win this game. And if Cleveland doesn't win this game, this series is over. Orlando already had won Game 1, and if the Magic had won Game 2, they would have taken a 2-0 series lead back to Orlando for Games 3 and 4. At that point, the only drama would have been the number of games Orlando would have needed to finish off the Cavaliers. Two? Three?
|'The reaction from the fans and teammates ... it was unbelievable,' LeBron James says. (Getty Images)|
Hedo Turkoglu was the recipient, the second coming of Craig Ehlo, of James' 23-foot facial. And that's a damn shame, because it was Turkoglu who all but won this game for Orlando. His 3-pointer with 48.7 seconds left tied the score at 93, and his dribble-drive with 13.7 seconds left against Sasha Pavlovic drew a foul from Pavlovic, re-setting the shot clock and giving Orlando the chance to take the final shot. And Turkoglu took that shot, a 14-foot pull-up jumper against Pavlovic that went down with one second left to give Orlando a 95-93 lead.
Cleveland called a timeout and set up an inbounds play for James, but not the play that it ended up running. With just one second to get off a shot, the Cavaliers were looking to throw a lob at the rim, where James could finish -- or draw a foul, like he did with 0.8 seconds left against Indiana on Feb. 11 -- in that single second.
But Orlando coach Stan Van Gundy knew what was coming. He knew about the Indiana game, which he said was "one of the craziest endings of games I've ever seen." In that game, Indiana's Danny Granger fouled James on the last-second lob, and James hit two free throws to tie the game. But Indiana ran the same play at the other end, and James fouled Granger, and Granger won the game at the line with 0.2 seconds left.
That wasn't going to happen again. Not to Van Gundy. He had Turkoglu ready for James' cut to the rim, and that forced James to spin and head the other way, away from the basket. It wasn't Plan B. There was no Plan B.
"We didn't tell him to do that," said Cleveland coach Mike Brown. "He did that on his own."
Turkoglu's ability to take away the lob worked against him when James immediately stopped and went the other way. James had told Mo Williams not to pass the ball to anyone else. "Second option, third option, I'm coming for the ball," James had told Williams, and Williams listened.
Asked later what was Option B, Williams smiled.
"Option B was LeBron," he said. "Option C was LeBron. And Option D? Option D was Big-Game James."
James was free of Turkoglu at the top of the key, where he caught the inbounds pass from Williams and then, in the same motion, rose and shot a high-arcing 3-pointer.
The shot was still climbing when the buzzer went off.
"It was crazy, watching the ball when he threw it up," said Magic center Dwight Howard. "It was like watching a movie."
On the Cleveland bench, several Cavaliers walked onto the court with their arms raised, as if they knew it was going in. Farther up the court, Williams threw the pass and put his hands to his head as he watched James elevate for the shot. Nearby, Van Gundy watched in horror as his defensive preparation -- taking away the lob -- meant James now had the chance not just to tie the game, but to win it.
When James' shot went in, Van Gundy sagged. Williams fell to his knees. Cleveland's bench players ran toward James, and James sprinted toward the Cleveland bench. All around Quicken Loans Arena, burgundy-and-gold confetti was shooting into the air.
"Wow," James said. "The reaction from the fans and teammates ... it was unbelievable. You couldn't hear anything but just the roar of those 20,000-plus fans."
We are witnesses, indeed.
"We're playing with history in the making," Cavs forward Wally Szczerbiak said. "He's going to be the best basketball player to ever touch a ball."
Um ... going to be?