The shot LeBron James hit to win Game 5 of his Cavaliers’ playoff series against the Pacers was remarkable. It will go down as one of his most legendary moments, in a career that already has him in the best-ever conversation. It capped a performance in which Cleveland needed all of his 44 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists in a 98-95 nail-biter, and it could prove the decisive blow in a hard-fought battle with Indiana.
But best of all, the shot saves us from having to care about the near-certainty that James committed a goaltending violation on the previous possession.
If called, the play would have given the Pacers the lead with seconds left, but it hardly matters in the wake of the, dare we say, Jordan-esque shot, with Thaddeus Young playing the unfortunate role of Craig Ehlo. Of course, Indiana fans don’t want to hear that, but for the rest of us, it’s a relief that we don’t have to spend Friday staring at frame-by-frame breakdowns of Victor Oladipo’s unsuccessful foray to the hoop.
Well, let’s go ahead and take a look at it, anyway, shall we? It does appear that after Oladipo released the ball, it bounced off the backboard before James swatted it away, which should have resulted in a goaltending call.
So, let’s go ahead and assume it was goaltending. Here are five reasons it doesn’t really matter:
- It would have counted for two points, whereas James hit a three-pointer, so his shot would still have won the game.
- Sure, the game would have played out a little differently if the call had been made, but that doesn’t mean James, having an exceptional shooting night (14 of 24) on his home court, would not have hit a subsequent three-pointer.
- A good argument can be made that the officials got it wrong when James was ruled to have turned the ball over on the previous play, so it was kind of a makeup non-call.
- According to the NBA rule book, officials must deem that a ball off the backboard “has a chance to score” to call goaltending, and they could have thought otherwise of Oladipo’s reverse attempt, which hit low and well to the left of the hoop and would have needed some major spin and possibly a friendly bounce to go in (I’ll concede that’s not the strongest point, but it’s worth considering).
- James’s shot gives NBA fans (except, as noted, for Pacers supporters) something much, much more fun to talk about until Game 6 rolls around.
About point No. 3, here’s a video clip, in which it does appear that Young pokes the ball away from James, which should have resulted in the Cavs retaining possession. That could have allowed Cleveland to take the lead, or at least take more time off the clock, altering the dynamic for Indiana’s possession, which began with 26 seconds remaining in the game.
Or, you know, it could be argued that even after being slapped by Young, the ball was last touched by James as it popped out of his hand. Good thing we really don’t have to bicker over that, either.
As it was, even NBA players watching from afar were in awe of James’s outing. “Lebron is just unreal man,” the Magic’s Nikola Vucevic tweeted as the game ended.
Meanwhile, Oladipo was not a happy Pacer after the game. Asked about the non-call, he told reporters, “I got a step on him [James], felt like I even got grabbed on the way to the rim, tried to shoot a layup, it hit the backboard, then he blocked it. There’s replays … I guess it’s a tough play at the time for ’em, but it was a goaltend.
“I mean, it’s hard to even speak on it. It just sucks, honestly. It really sucks.”
Nor surprisingly, James saw things a bit differently, although not before trolling reporters for a moment. “I definitely thought it was a goaltend,” he said, then offered a revealing chuckle. “Of course I didn’t think it was a goaltend, man. … I was able to make a play.”
Oladipo’s disappointment and his opinion of the play are perfectly understandable, although it seems fair to point out that the results of the rest of his shot attempts went a long way toward putting his squad in a disadvantageous position. The fifth-year guard, who has had a breakout season after coming over in a trade from the Thunder, went just two of 15 from the field Wednesday, including one of seven from three-point range, in a 12-point performance.
The good news for the Pacers and their fans is that, unlike when Jordan hit his shot over Ehlo, which also came in a Game 5, James’s last-second make did not decide the series. This is a best-of-seven affair, and Oladipo and Co. will have the home-court advantage — and hey, maybe even a little love from the refs — on Friday as they try to force a Game 7.
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