Everyone has dreamed of hitting the game-winning shot to win a championship. They dream of taking the shot, not making the pass. And when you are an all-time great like LeBron James, you get extra attention, even when sometimes the right play is making the pass.
That's what happened Friday night in Game 5 of the NBA Finals with the Los Angeles Lakers down one and 16.8 seconds left against the Miami Heat.
As James came off a ball screen, he had Duncan Robinson on his hip, Jimmy Butler chasing closely from behind, Jae Crowder digging and Bam Adebayo rotating over for the block. With the majority of the Heat defense collapsing on him, he found Danny Green wide-open for a three:
When asked about the play after the game, James said: "It's one of the best shots that we could have got, I feel, in that fourth quarter, especially down the stretch with two guys on me, Duncan Robinson and Jimmy, and Danny had a hell of a look. It just didn't go down."
Lakers coach Frank Vogel added: "A third defender came, and so with three guys on you, he made the right play. Danny is one of our best shooters. He had a great look."
During the regular season, Green had been one of the Lakers' best three-point shooters at 36.7 percent. He had a history of lights-out three-point shooting in the playoffs from his days in San Antonio, where he shot 48.2 percent and 47.5 percent from deep during their two Finals runs. Even last year in the Finals, he shot 36.4 percent from three for the Toronto Raptors.
There is no arguing Green has struggled with his shooting in the bubble, and in particular in the playoffs. He is shooting just 33.3 percent from three in the playoffs, and it drops to 25.8 percent in the Finals. James said after the game about passing to Green: "I trusted him—we trusted him—and it just didn't go."
But as soon as that shot clanked off the front rim, the tweets began to roll in questioning how James could pass instead of shoot:
Skip Bayless @RealSkipBayless
LeBron should've just gone ahead and powered up through Jimmy Butler, hoped to get fouled on the last shot. Instead, he made the "right play," kicked it back to wide-open Danny Green ... who missed the three for the title. He's made some big ones. But it was LeBron's Night.
The thing is, it was absolutely the right play.
It is the type of play James has made throughout his career and often gets criticized for when his teammates miss the shot. Back in his second year with the Heatles in 2011-12—as one of many examples—he came off a Udonis Haslem ball screen, and he hit the popping Haslem as the Utah Jazz double-teamed him. Haslem missed, and the Heat lost:
After that game, James said about the criticism, "It always come to light when teammates don't make the shot." That was a regular-season game; this was a chance to clinch his fourth title. The story won't be about his 40 points, 13 rebounds, seven assists and three steals on 15-of-21 shooting (6-of-9 from three). It'll be that he passed when some will say he should have shot.
James made the right play in the Utah game all those years ago, and he made the right play again in Game 5. It is how he has always played, as he reiterated after the game: "I've always played the game the same way since I was a kid, and I've had success doing it. And I won't let a play here or a play there change my outlook on the game and how I play the game."
It was the right play when Michael Jordan found Steve Kerr for the game-winner in Game 6 of the 1997 Finals against the Jazz. John Stockton left Kerr to double-team Jordan, and Kerr stepped into the shot to bring the Chicago Bulls their fifth title:
Just like Green, Kerr was struggling with his shooting in those Finals too: 25 percent from three and 36 percent from the field. Jordan still trusted him to knock down the game-winner, just like James trusted Green.
The adage that it's a make or miss league is as true as it gets. If Green made that shot, it would have joined Kerr's in the pantheon of legendary NBA Finals shots. But since he missed, the tide will turn against James for passing up on an opportunity to be the hero.
The truth is sometimes a bad play can result in a make and a win. Sometimes the right play results in a miss and a loss. But if you make enough right plays, you'll win more often than not.
James has made a lot more right plays and has the hardware to prove it. This was just a right play that didn't pan out.
Mo Dakhil spent six years with the Los Angeles Clippers and two years with the San Antonio Spurs as a video coordinator, as well as three years with the Australian men's national team. Follow him on Twitter, @MoDakhil_NBA.