After a big comeback, led by Lebron James’ 17 fourth quarter points, the Miami Heat had an opportunity to steal a road game against the Utah Jazz. The Heat had the ball out of bounds and wanted to give Lebron the chance to win it. Let’s take a look at what went down in a game that’s sure to ignite the Lebron critics.
Mario Chalmers starts the play by running to the opposite side of the court, across Lebron James. This action looks meaningless, but with it, we can see how Utah has decided to defend the play. As Chalmers runs past Lebron, Josh Howard stays on Lebron and does not switch onto Chalmers. We know that Howard is going to have to work around more screens to stick with Lebron because his teammates will not be switching assignments with him.
Dwyane Wade and Udonis Haslem set staggered screens on Howard to free up Lebron at the top of the key. It can be assumed that Lebron has realized Utah is not switching, and he curls tightly around Haslem’s hip because he knows Howard is on his back.
Howard trails James around the screens and Lebron catches the ball with Howard on his hip. At this point, Lebron is essentially one on one with Paul Millsap. Howard doesn’t have much leverage with his body and can only poke the ball out if Lebron dribbles with his right hand.
The image below highlights the open lane available to Lebron as he turns the corner with the ball.
I cannot fault Lebron for passing to Haslem; it is the fundamentally correct thing to do. Haslem has been an above average shooter on long twos for a while (43% since 2007 from 16-23 feet). However, as someone who appreciates an aggressive move to the hoop, it is disappointing to see him pass here. Players like James Harden turn the corner with one defender between them and the rim, and they attack with a Euro-step and finish. Dwyane Wade, too. Lebron, with a head of steam, is more than capable of taking Paul Millsap to the rack to at least draw a foul. The other perimeter defenders were either hugging their man to prevent a three or too far under the hoop to prevent a shot in the lane. To be clear, I don’t think Lebron is a choker (or whatever his detractors are saying these days), it could be that he’s just too good to make the “wrong” decision. Here’s the full play:
Lebron James was the main force behind Miami’s comeback against Utah. He’s still going to be the 2012 MVP, and his team will probably be favored to win the title. It’s good that he isn’t stubborn enough to take low quality fadeaway jumpers in the hopes of becoming a hero; he’s like Chris Paul in a 250 lb frame. It’s a great thing that Lebron is unselfish enough to be a facilitator to get the best shot in crunch time, but he could have easily been more selfish on this final play to get the best shot versus a weak help defender.