LeBron James saved the Cleveland Cavaliers on Sunday, hitting a game-winning buzzer beater to tie the series with the Chicago Bulls at 2-2.
Preceding that shot, however, was a hectic 19 seconds in which the Cavs nearly fell apart because of a series of errors and coaching blunders.
With 18.8 seconds left and the Cavs up 84-82, Cleveland had to burn their final two timeouts to draw up an inbounds play. When they finally got the ball in to LeBron at halfcourt, he was immediately swarmed by Bulls defenders trying to force a turnover.
In the process, James swung an elbow and got called for an offensive foul with 14.3 seconds left, giving the Bulls possession:
On the next possession, Derrick Rose made a fantastic drive to the hoop to tie the game at 84-84 with 8.4 seconds left. As ESPN’s Brian Windhorst notes, James was late with his help defence, setting up another scenario in which he would be the scapegoat for the Cavs’ loss.
After the layup, Cavs coach David Blatt nearly made the most crucial mistake of all. As the Cavs set up the inbounds, Blatt tried to call for timeout, even though the Cavs had burned all of them on their previous possession:
Assistant coach Tyronn Lue had to grab Blatt, who was walking onto the floor trying to signal the timeout, and stop him. By rule, calling a timeout when you don’t have any left results in a technical foul shot for the other team, plus the ball. If the refs noticed Blatt, the Bulls would have gotten a free throw, plus the ball on the final possession.
The refs missed the attempted timeout, and the Cavs inbounded the ball. LeBron went the length of the court and attempted a layup, only to have it blocked out of bounds with 0.8 seconds left. He wanted a foul:
The refs reviewed the play to make sure the ball did go off the Bulls.
During the review, the Cavs basically got the timeout they didn’t have. They huddled and drew up an inbounds play. The refs also added another 0.7 seconds to the game clock, leaving 1.5 seconds remaining in the game.
After the game, LeBron came out with a stunning revelation about that huddle: he planned the final play himself, overruling Blatt’s original play call. James said:
“To be honest, the play the way drawn up, I scratched. I just told coach, ‘Give me the ball.’ We’re either going to overtime or I’m winning it for us. It was that simple.
“I was supposed to take the ball out. I told coach, ‘There’s no way I’m taking the ball out, unless I can shoot it over the backboard and it goes in. I told him, ‘Have somebody else take the ball out, give me the ball, and everybody get out of the way.'”
The Cavs ran a simple play, and LeBron hit his biggest shot of the season:
Between LeBron’s turnover, poor late defence against Rose, Blatt’s failed timeout, LeBron’s failed layup attempt, and Blatt’s original play call, the Cavs had several chances to blow this game. Instead, they stole a game from Chicago, and tied the series at 2-2 heading back to Cleveland for Game 5.
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