LeBron James didn’t take a shot in the final minute of the Heat’s loss to the Pacers last night, and now the whole “LEBRON IS A CHOKER” debate is back in full swing.
Basically, two distinct factions have emerged overnight:
1. LeBron disappeared when it mattered most, missed crucial free throws, and lost his team the game. He choked. For the most part, fans hold this view.
2. LeBron made the correct basketball plays, did what his coach asked, and the stats say it’s crazy to think he has to force bad shots at the end of games. He didn’t choke. For the most part, basketball junkies/bloggers hold this view.
But they’re both wrong.
Here’s why the second group is wrong:
LeBron bricked two free throws with 54 seconds left that would have tied the game. And it’s not the first time he’s done this. LBJ is 10/17 (59%) on free throws in the final minute of one-possession games this season, according to ESPN Stats & Info. That’s an atrocious number. So if you define “choking” as “a player performing below his average at the end of games,” then LeBron absolutely choked from the free throw line last night.
But here’s why the first group is wrong:
The second piece of alleged evidence in LeBron’s choke job — that he refused to take the final shot — makes no sense. The Heat needed a three-pointer to tie the game with 8.3 seconds left last night, and LeBron has no business taking threes — especially contested ones.
LeBron took the fewest number of three-pointers (on a per minute basis) of his career this year, and only shot 36%. Statistically, the Heat have three different players (James Jones, Mike Miller, and Mario Chalmers) who should be taking threes over LeBron when they need one.
Add to this equation the fact that the defence is totally focused on LeBron and Wade at the end of games, and Erik Spoelstra’s choice to draw up a play for Chalmers last night was much more likely to result in a quality shot. Ultimately, the Heat got a clean look from one of their best three-point shooters (Chalmers), but the shot just didn’t go in. That has nothing to do with LeBron.
The years-long debate about the clutch-ness of LeBron has pushed both groups to the extremes. There’s no middle ground when it comes to LBJ, meaning the truth about what happened last night — LeBron bricked two free throws but otherwise didn’t do all that badly in the final minute — has been lost.
Here’s the final play:
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