CBS Columnist Argues Unselfish LeBron Pass Cost Heat At End Of Game 5

05.29.14 5 years ago

Where have we heard this before? Oh right, just three years ago LeBron James was ring-less, having lost to the Mavs in the 2011 NBA Finals, and despite three MVP awards at the time, he was accused of lacking the killer instinct needed to be an NBA champion. One of the complaints (we made it, too) centered on how unselfish he was, particularly with the game on the line. Now — even after winning a title the last two years while capturing a fourth MVP award — the still-tired trope has surfaced again.

Towards the end of Game 5, LeBron had only seven points through the game’s first 47 minutes and 50 seconds and tentatively played most of the fourth quarter with five fouls. Despite this — after a surprising performance from Rashard Lewis (6-of-9 from deep) — the Heat were only down two, 92-90, with a little more than 10 seconds left.

On the ensuing possession, LeBron isolated at the top of the key with the Heat shooters spread out to give him ample driving room. After making his initial move to get into the heart of Indy’s defense, Roy Hibbert collapsed on him in the lane and LeBron passed to the far corner for a short Chris Bosh three to win the game. Bosh’s attempt clanked off the iron and the Pacers won 93-90.

Now here’s CBS Sports’ Gregg Doyel explaining why LeBron should have selfishly barreled all the way to the rim and dunked over Hibbert:

The right basketball play isn’t always the right basketball play. It wasn’t on Wednesday night in the final seconds of Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals when LeBron James got past Paul George near the foul line, cupped the ball inside one of his powerful arms and took off for the rim. Pacers center Roy Hibbert was coming over to contest the shot, but LeBron had momentum and he had power and he had the angle.

The right play at that moment, final seconds of a potential closeout game to reach the NBA Finals, is for LeBron James to rise up in a show of power and fury and shove the ball through the basket. If Hibbert’s hand or arm is in the way, then Hibbert’s hand or arm gets shoved through the basket, too. Sometimes the right basketball play isn’t an unselfish page clipped neatly from a coach’s manual, but a greedy, hungry, emphatic display of this is my world.

Gordon Gekko, eat your heart out. Greed is good, even if the right basketball play was LeBron’s pass to Bosh for the win. After already picking up five fouls before the midway point of the third quarter, LeBron was at a disadvantage against the verticality of Hibbert, something he’s struggled with in the past. Hibbert’s man, Bosh, was open after Hibbert left him to collapse on ‘Bron, and it was a short corner three to win the game, rather than the tie if LeBron had been fouled (a big if in Game 5) and an overtime session the Heat wanted no part of on the road.

Doyel doesn’t think so:

…[E]nough with the right basketball play. Enough. Sometimes, the right basketball play is the best player in the world trying to finish at the rim. LeBron is a 6-foot-9, 275-pound monster. From a running start, his vertical has to be in the 40-inch range. Hibbert is 5 inches taller but plays well below the heights that LeBron can reach. This was LeBron’s moment to ignore the right play and get selfish and get nasty, but LeBron doesn’t have that particular gene. [Michael] Jordan did, as you know, but LeBron does not — and that’s one of the most unique, even beautiful things about his game. As good as he is, he’s happy to share the ball, even to a fault.

And that finish, that was his fault.

Doyel forgets it was MJ’s trust in teammate John Paxson that led to a Bulls win in the 1991 Finals against a Lakers team that collapsed any time MJ took a foray to the rim. Then, as SB Nation’s Tom Ziller points out, there’s MJ’s pass to Steve Kerr against the Jazz in the 1997 NBA Finals that led to the game-winner.

Three years ago this column wouldn’t have been limited to Doyel, the theme was a ubiquitous argument against LeBron’s greatness. Amateurish interpretations of LeBron’s pysche became a full-time job for most NBA writers in the spring of 2012. It’s 2014 though, and while some Adam Smith acolytes might disagree, greed isn’t good — on the basketball court, at least.

Is Doyel right?

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