A funny thing happened on the way to an Oklahoma City comeback against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Sunday.
With his team leading 91-87 late in the fourth quarter, the Cavaliers' Mo Williams tracked down a loose ball in the backcourt, turned and set his feet, and unleashed a halfcourt shot that swished through the net as the shot clock expired.
The improbable toss gave Cleveland its largest lead of the game and silenced the Thunder for good. Oklahoma City didn’t score for another three-and-a-half minutes, and tallied just two more points the rest of the game as the Cavs raced to a 102-89 victory.
Williams’ bomb came as no surprise to LeBron James.
“He practices with me every day on (those) half court shots, and sometimes it pays off,” said James. “That was a huge shot.”
That it came on the heels of a trademark James scoring run added insult to injury for the Thunder. After Oklahoma City led throughout the game, James rattled off Cleveland’s final 10 points of the third quarter, including three three-pointers, to tie the score at 78 going into the fourth.
Cleveland gained an edge in the dogfight during the final stanza, but the Thunder kept nipping at their heels until Williams’ stunner took the wind out of their sails.
“Any shot like that is deflating,” said Williams, who finished with 22 points to go along with LeBron’s 44.
The Cavaliers frequently conclude workouts at the team’s practice facility by working on a variety of shots, including half court bombs. Last spring LeBron famously swished an underhand, three-quarter-court shot while the 60 Minutes cameras were rolling, and often does the same from various spots on the floor during pregame shootarounds.
Even the big guys get in on the fun, as evidenced when Zydrunas Ilgauskas recently hit a half court laser to end practice. It’s something the team uses to stay loose and build camaraderie.
That’s why Williams’ shot could make such a difference. Fun has often been missing from the Cavaliers’ performances this season.
Coach Mike Brown said after back-to-back losses to Memphis and Houston that the team needed to bring more intensity to the court. He’s right, but this is also a team shaped in the personality of James, its leader. And LeBron is at his best when he’s loose, smiling, and having a good time.
The pregame introductions and sideline dancing, aggravating though they may be to opposing players and fans, are all a part of the team’s personality and style.
A season ago, it appeared the Cavs had earned the right to dance, as they stormed to a league-best 66 wins and sailed unbeaten through the first two rounds of the playoffs. Then Orlando silenced the celebration in the Eastern Conference Finals.
But the Cavaliers are what they are. And they’re at their best when the team is loose and their star is smiling. It’s never been truer than now, with the addition of Shaquille O’Neal, the league’s premier showman and funny guy.
Williams’ 50-footer against Oklahoma City fired up his teammates and sealed the Thunder’s fate. No team wins an NBA championship with smoke and mirrors, but time will tell if the Cavaliers can bottle Mo’s magic and use it to their advantage as they try to make another championship run.