Cavaliers’ Lue had right idea and perfect player — LeBron — to make play
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CLEVELAND — LeBron James’ epic game-winning shot began with Cavaliers coach Ty Lue’s decision to take the ball out of bounds under the basket after a timeout instead of at halfcourt with eight seconds left in the fourth quarter.
“Just wanted to get more space,’’ Lue said. ‘‘If we took it from the side, the Raptors would take [space] away and condense the floor.”
Lue wanted the ball in James’ hands, putting pressure on the Raptors’ defense at full speed.
James added another iconic moment to his remarkable playoff run this season, taking the ball the length of the court with Toronto’s OG Anunoby hounding him. James banked in a one-handed, body-twisting floater from 10 feet as he drifted away from the basket.
The ball went through the net — his 37th and 38th points — as time expired, giving the Cavs a 105-103 victory and a 3-0 series lead against the Raptors.
“What you come to find out as his teammate and playing with him is that he practices those shots all the time and makes them all the time,” Kevin Love said.
The Cavs have run that play before and work on it in practice. Most times, when a team calls a timeout in that situation — after Anunoby made a three-pointer to tie the score at 103 — it takes the ball out at halfcourt to give it more time to run a play.
But the Cavs didn’t want Toronto to shrink the halfcourt and make it easier to defend.
“[Lue] was the one who told us, ‘Let’s take it fullcourt,’ knowing I had more than enough time to get the ball up the court,” James said. “And by us doing that, it doesn’t allow the defense to kind of sit and see what you’re going to do because you’re going at such a fast pace.”
The Raptors didn’t want the ball in James’ hands. Anunoby and Pascal Siakam tried to prevent Love from inbounding it to James, and when James caught the ball, Siakam peeled off to cover Love.
“Our goal in the timeout was to trap him and make someone else beat us,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said. “He split the trap and went 100 miles an hour down the floor and lost them. We just didn’t execute. It was probably my fault that I didn’t make it clear that we wanted to trap him and get the ball out of his hands. We had it started in the backcourt, and, for whatever reason, we let him out of the trap.”
As James crossed halfcourt and dribbled toward the three-point line on the left side of the floor, Kyle Korver was in the left corner, George Hill and J.R. Smith were in the right corner and Love was beyond the three-point line at the top of the key. The paint was wide-open.
There’s an option on the play for Korver or another Cavalier to set a screen for James, but Korver said, “I felt like there wasn’t enough time, so I didn’t want to junk up the play.”
Why didn’t the Raptors double-team James after they failed to trap him and force the ball out of his hands?
“They can’t really double-team because one shot can lose you the game, and you give up a wide-open look, most likely you’re not going to like the results of that,” James said. “You don’t want to double in that case with a tie game.”
Then there’s the shot itself, his second buzzer-beater of the playoffs. It’s an incredibly difficult shot to make in practice with nothing at stake, let alone in a playoff game. James called it his “ability to have different things in my toolbox.”
“I practice pretty much every shot I take in a game, and no matter if it’s the first quarter or a game-winner, I feel pretty comfortable,” James said.
Said Korver: “In the moment, that’s a tough shot, but I’ve watched him shoot that shot countless times in shootaround and practice, just messing around, shooting off the wrong leg. I’m like, ‘When would you shoot a shot like that?’ Apparently to win a playoff game. Amazing shot.”
Said Love: “You just see him do it every day, so to answer your question, you almost expect it to go in, and he’s been so great in this run and so great in all of our playoff runs, that it’s just special.”
Toronto’s Serge Ibaka put his hands on his head after James’ shot. Jonas Valanciunas turned around in disappointment. C.J. Miles slumped his shoulders.
How could that happen? The Raptors fought back from a 17-point deficit to tie the game. They were in stunned disbelief. Yet they’ve seen so much of James, they could believe it, too.
The degree of difficulty on the shot?
“Don’t try it at home,” James told a reporter.