By John Schuhmann, NBA.com
Posted May 23 2009 2:47AM
CLEVELAND -- All night long, he kept trusting his teammates. They kept failing him, but he kept trusting them.
Until, with just one second left and his team down by two, LeBron James had no choice but to do it himself.
One second isn't enough time to pass the ball to a teammate who may have a better look at the basket than you. You have no choice but to catch ... and shoot. And when the shot goes in, as unselfish as you may be, the glory is all yours.
James saved his team Friday night, hitting a miraculous, buzzer-beating 3-pointer to give the Cavs a 96-95 victory over the Orlando Magic and tie the Eastern Conference finals at one game apiece. (Note: Watch a replay of Game 2 Saturday at noon ET and Sunday at 2:30 p.m. ET on NBA TV.)
That wasn't the shot James was supposed to take. The Cavs ran a play for him to catch an inbound lob at the rim, but the Magic knew what was coming and Hedo Turkoglu blocked James' path to the basket. So James quickly changed direction and headed back toward the ball. Mo Williams kept his sights on No. 23 and got him the ball at the top of the 3-point line.
"We were going for the lob," Cavs coach Mike Brown said afterward. "Hedo took it away. So, LeBron said, 'I'm going to win it,' and he popped out for the three."
James squared to the basket as he landed with the ball and immediately went up with the shot. It brought rain, rattled around the rim and fell through.
Quicken Loans Arena, which had fallen silent after Turkoglu put the Magic ahead by two with a tough shot over Sasha Pavlovic, exploded. James charged toward the opposite end of the floor, where he was mobbed by his teammates. Williams fell to his knees, unable to move. Magic coach Stan Van Gundy could do nothing but shrug.
His 25 straight points in Game 5 of the 2007 conference finals in Detroit was a more unbelievable performance, but this was easily the biggest shot of James' six-year career.
"He was born to do that," Sasha Pavlovic said afterward.
Now, instead of hitting the road down 0-2, the Cavs need to win just one game in Orlando to get back home-court advantage. And the MVP deserves almost all the credit.
In Game 1 on Wednesday, James twice passed the ball out in the final minute after drawing an extra defender on a drive. Both times the ball ended up in the hands of Delonte West in front of the Magic bench. West made the first three, but missed the one that could have given the Cavs the lead with just a few ticks on the clock.
Before Game 2, James was asked about the thought that he, having scored 49 points on 20-of-30 shooting until that point, should be taking the shot in that situation no matter what.
"I've made game-winning shots and I've made game-winning assists," he said. "This is a team game. I play it the right way. I'm always going to continue to play it for the rest of my career. It's not my fault if you don't like the way I approach late games."
The critics had to have been loading up on ammo in the second half of Game 2, which was almost a carbon copy of Game 1. The Cavs built a huge lead in the first half, the Magic chipped away at it, and then took the lead late in the fourth. But while it was the Cavs' defense that couldn't get stops on Wednesday, it was their offense that failed them late on Friday.
Until the game-winner, Cleveland scored on just eight of its previous 23 possessions, turning the ball over five times. With James' teammates unable to consistently knock down shots, the Magic swarmed him every time he touched the ball.
"I thought we were better [defensively] in the fourth quarter than we were the rest of the game," Van Gundy said afterward.
As he always does, James made the right play, passing the ball to his open teammates. But they couldn't deliver. While James made seven of his 16 shots in the second half, his teammates shot just 7-for-24.
It got to a point where he had no choice but to barrel through the Orlando defense in an attempt to get to the rim, but that just resulted in two offensive fouls and a crab-dribble travel. Williams hit a pair of jumpers to stop the bleeding with a few minutes to go, but was 5-for-19 the rest of the night and is shooting just 33 percent in this series.
Delonte West was practically invisible, taking just two shots in the second half. And Zydrunas Ilgauskas missed four of his five shots after the break. It looked like another epic collapse by a team that had looked so dominant through the first two rounds of the Playoffs.
But one shot turned it all around.
James is averaging 42.0 points on 60 percent shooting in this series. His teammates are averaging 59.0 points on 41 percent shooting. Through 90 games, they were the best supporting cast he's ever had. But so far in the Eastern Conference finals, they've come up short.
That needs to change, because no matter how unbelievably good LeBron James is, he's going to need more help to beat the Orlando Magic, who have been far more balanced in the two games so far.
Unless, of course, he can perform a few more miracles.
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