Right Play, Wrong Time

LeBron James’ refusal to take the last shot is once again the hot topic of debate. The King literally passed on game-winners in the All-Star Game and against the Utah Jazz, adding to a growing career list of crunch-time deferrals. How should we take LeBron’s recent end-game antics? More importantly, what kind of leader is LeBron? Two of SLAMonline’s bloggers weigh in with differing opinions. Check out Hall Pass for the other side of this debate.—Ed.

by Bryan Crawford / @_BryanCrawford

LeBron James not taking the game-winning shot in the All-Star Game or against the Utah Jazz less than a week later was puzzling to many considering he had eye-popping fourth-quarter performances in both contests.

When his talent and ability are on full display like that, it’s clear why he’s considered the best player in the NBA today. But as has been the case, his ability to close games (or seemingly lack thereof) came under fire once again and both his critics and supporters came out in full force.

Was attempting to pass the ball cross-court to DWade in the ASG or the slick bounce pass to UD at the top of the key against the Jazz a mistake in those situations? No question.

If you can single-handedly take over the game, why not finish the job? Why leave the outcome in the hands of someone else when you’re clearly the best and most dominant guy on the floor? We’ve become so accustomed to seeing NBA superstars take the last shot with the game on the line that to see a great player not do it seems foreign and quite honestly, weird.

But LeBron is one of those athletes who’s hyper-aware of everything that’s said and written about him and he’s known for quite some time that his most ardent supporters want him to be more like Magic Johnson instead of Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant. They’d rather see him make a pass to a wide-open teammate with the game on the line as opposed to him taking the last shot himself (hero ball). And Bron aims to please.

But is that really always the best option? Is that the smartest decision out there?

Many people tried to use Jordan’s pass to Steve Kerr in the Finals against the Jazz as evidence that LBJ’s pass to Haslem was the right play. Well, Kerr is one of the best shooters in NBA history, so that ends that discussion right there. And before someone brings up MJ’s pass to Bill Wennington that one time, his play went for a dunk, not a 15-foot jumper.

In fairness to Haslem, that was his shot. We’ve seen him make that free-throw line jumper many times throughout his career, but the problem isn’t with the shot itself, but rather when it was taken. In “winning time,” would MJ have made that pass to Haslem with 4 seconds left on the clock, game on the line, Josh Howard behind him and Paul Millsap in front of him? No; absolutely not.

Would Kobe Bryant have dished it off to Haslem? I think we all know the answer to that one.

What about Kevin Durant, Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook or Carmelo Anthony? In that situation, all signs point to no. And you know what? There’s absolutely nothing wrong with guys of that ilk taking the last shot and to have any opinion to the contrary borders on ridiculous. Certainly there are times when it’s more advantageous to make the pass, but that doesn’t apply in these two scenarios with LBJ.

Great players get paid to take those shots and honestly, the make or miss isn’t even important. What’s important is the respect that comes from the willingness to take that burden upon your shoulders.

Basketball is a five-on-five game, but within that same framework, it’s also played one-on-one. The best and most dominant player in the entire world should’ve salivated at an opportunity to take those final shots to win the game because what’s the worst that could happen? He misses? So what? His team loses? Big deal. That same scenario applies whether it’s LBJ or the 12th man on the bench.

So why not take it himself? The odds stand at 50/50 regardless—make or miss—but you miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take.

Superstars in any sport should relish that kind of high risk/high reward pressure. Who among us has never played the “3… 2… 1…” game when we were by ourselves on the basketball court? Who doesn’t want a chance to be able to deliver in big moments like that? That’s the allure of sports.

Look, making the “right play” is what makes the game beautiful, but sometimes, the right play can be made at the wrong time. And it’s OK to admit that. LeBron did.