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Why you should and should not care about LeBron’s whole “passing in the clutch” thing

Mar 3, 2012, 9:10 AM EDT


To review, in last night’s game, the Miami Heat came from behind to lead the Utah Jazz, only to watch Al Jefferson take the lead with a hook shot. At that point, the Heat had time for one final possession. Remember when LeBron passed up the final shot and everyone gave him huge grief about it? Yeah, this time he didn’t inbound, he took the ball, then swung and made a pass to a wide-open Udonis Haslem, who missed the game-winning jumper. Jazz win 99-98.

So here’s a little discussion of why you should and should not care about this.

You should care about this because: Well, it doesn’t really matter if you care about it or not, you’re going to be hearing about it for the next 24 hours until the Heat play the Lakers. Welcome to the news cycle, enjoy your stay.

You should not care about this because: It was a regular season game on a back-to-back on the road during a west coast trip. NBA teams lose these games all the time. Even Kobe. Even Jordan. Even Brian Cardinal. It happens, and it’s a blip in the radar. We can’t say “nothing matters until the playoffs” and then freak out over a regular season game. Well, we can, and we will, but we probably shouldn’t.

You should care about this because: It’s reflective of the standard people have set for LeBron. You can choose to set a different standard outside of our culture, but eventually your evaluations will regress back to the mean of our society. You can try and applaud James for making the right play, but it’s clear that we as a basketball society have redefined our decision-making chart based on Michael Jordan. To be the best, which James is, you have to pull-up and take and hit that mid-range-to-long-range jumper with a hand in your face. Making the right play is not considered the right play in this instance.

You should not care about this because: Let’s face it, it was the right play. An open jumper from a guy who has, in his career, hit a high number of big shots, is a much higher percentage shot than a contested off-dribble pull-up jumper. That’s just simply basketball. Michael Jordan passed to Steve Kerr. Kobe Bryant passed to Metta World Peace. You make the play when it’s there, especially when you’re as gifted of a passer as LeBron.

You should care about this because: Erik Spoelstra drew up a play that involved a pick and roll with Udonis Haslem instead of an isolation for LeBron or a pick and roll with Dwyane Wade. You know what we kill the Thunder for? Drawing up terrible late-game possessions that are essentially “Here, Kevin Durant, go win this” and sometimes it works and sometimes Durant throws up 35-foot threes that miss badly.Wade and James haven’t been super effective in the pick and roll throughout their time together, but that’s still the guys you want with the ball. Wade misses that shot and the narrative is likely different, slightly. It’s not the wrong play, but it says something about Spoelstra’s mindset and the approach of the team.

You should not care about this because: We destroy guys for being too selfish, for going hero mode, for jacking up shots instead of working in a system. Instead, now we’re killing players for making the right play, making the easy play, trusting in their teammates. The double standard is so blinding you can’t see the shine off James’ forehead, and as a bald guy, I can tell you that gets bright.

You should care about this because: It’s yet another game the Heat should have won over a lesser team that was lost due to a late-game decision by LeBron. (We can blame Haslme for the missed jumper but that’s not going to happen. Stars take the blame.) The Heat continue to struggle in key situations on the road nd most of the games in the playoffs aren’t going to be blowouts.

You should not care about this because: It was their first loss in weeks after a long winning streak all by double-digits. This team is not “in trouble” or “struggling.” They lost “a game.”

You should care about this because: Where was Dwyane Wade? Wade in the final minutes fouled Devin Harris on a three-pointer, one of the single dumbest plays of the season and then later missed a free throw. Where’s his public shaming? The fact that James’ narrative completely overrides a terrible game for Wade should probably be mentioned.

You should care about this because: James had 35-10-6 and poured it on in the fourth quarter. He made ridiculous shot after ridiculous shot to get them back in it and carried the team on his shoulders. When it counted, he passed to an open teammate. Most guys do what he did in the fourth and we marvel at their effort in a loss. James does it and there’s something wrong with him.

This is more about who we are than who LeBron James is.

  1. 1972wasalongtimeago - Mar 3, 2012 at 9:29 AM

    My head is spinning from this article.

  2. explosionsauce - Mar 3, 2012 at 9:50 AM

    At least someone at PBT had enough sense to not let Kurt write this article.

    • metalhead65 - Mar 3, 2012 at 11:54 AM

      don’t worry he will have a how it is not lebron’s fault article as soon as he recovers from yet another loss that wasn’t lebron’s fault. first it was “just” the all star game now it’s “just” a regular season one but you are sure he will make it when it counts in the playoffs. face it is not just a patteren but the way the guy is wired. he can’t hand the pressure and no amount of excuses “lebron talk” makes fot him will change it.

  3. hiddeneye13 - Mar 3, 2012 at 10:13 AM

    Let me ask you a question, should I care or not care about what LBJ did?

  4. chiadam - Mar 3, 2012 at 10:21 AM

    He probably just thought it was the All-Star game. Or the NBA Finals.

  5. telergy - Mar 3, 2012 at 10:27 AM

    LeBron took 1 unaggressive soft dribble on the pick and roll and passed it to Haslem who had 4 pts all game and Is shooting 40% from that distance this year. LeBron had a clear lane on his left with Battier in the corner. At Worst he could’ve drew a tougher double team as he dribbled to the basket to open up a cutting Haslem or hit Battier in the corner for 3. Instead he showed not even an ounce of the same effort he displayed all 4th quarter to get his team back in the game when they needed it the most. What a joke

  6. cantonbound13 - Mar 3, 2012 at 10:53 AM

    It’s simple, LeBron’s a coward. Why else would he team up with one of the top players in the NBA? He doesn’t have the killer instinct the great ones have. He’s a coward!

    • md23rewlz - Mar 3, 2012 at 5:18 PM

      Ah, good to see this old argument rear its ugly head again. Hello, old argument. I welcome your return. So if Deron Williams goes to Dallas, he’s a coward? What about if Dwight Howard goes to LA? What about Wade, who actively recruited James? As a Mavs fan, I can only hope that Williams and/or Howard are cowardly enough to become BFFs with Dirk. I can only hope.

      • cantonbound13 - Mar 5, 2012 at 8:18 AM

        LeBron, Wade & Bosh had planned to join forces well before they reached free agency. Do you realize LeBron applied for a number change while still playing with the Cavs because the number 23 was retired by the Heat. He also met with Riley while with the Cavs. He clearly knew he couldn’t lead a team to a championship & sought out 2 of the top 10 players in the league. He is truely a coward!

  7. dafranchise03 - Mar 3, 2012 at 11:00 AM

    Tired of all these articles making a big deal about Lebron passing up the shots but then give him a pass for “making the right play.” Lebron was on fire that night. Almost everything he threw up in the fourth was going in. The best play would have been him taking that shot.

  8. majbobby - Mar 3, 2012 at 11:01 AM

    Lin and linsanity take and make that shot.

    Clutch players and best players want the ball in their hand when the game is on the line.

    • mytthor - Mar 3, 2012 at 11:33 AM

      Well if that’s true it’s a bad play. He’s a point guard and the 3rd option (at best) on his team.

    • md23rewlz - Mar 3, 2012 at 5:06 PM

      Oh so many things wrong with this. First, semantics level thing that I must get out of the way because such things annoy me–“linsanity” is a media coined term that has literally no influence on the game of basketball. “linsanity” can no more “take and make” the last shot than the futon on which I am currently lying on can, because “linsanity” is not a human being, does not have an NBA contract, and does not tangibly exist. Moving on to actual points now, Jeremy Lin is the point guard of the Knicks and more likely to pass than almost anybody on that team. Jeremy Lin is not the best player on that team and SHOULD be passing. I would rather have Carmelo Anthony with the ball in his hands because he is a better offensive player than Jeremy Lin, and not just better, but better by a wide margin. Or to put it another way, if, in some bizarre alternate universe, LeBron and Lin are on the same team and there’s one possession left, does any rational human being actually say that they would prefer that JEREMY LIN have the ball over LeBron James? I don’t care if James ends up passing, shooting, driving, whatever. Do you know what other teams would think in this alternate universe? “Thank God Jeremy Lin is going to determine this game, and not the best basketball player on the face of the planet.” Final possessions get so many highlights and such hype, but they are also extremely isolated and almost impossible to draw conclusions from. In the past, LeBron James has hit last second shots to win games, missed last second shots to lose games, made passes to win them, made passes that resulted in losses, and everything in between. People who hate LeBron are always going to remember the botched ones, people who love him will always remember the successful ones. That’s just how human nature works. You selectively enforce your own view by remembering only the things that back up your view, until, in your mind, there’s no way to see it otherwise. Long story short, “linsanity” can’t take shots because it does not actually exist. The end.

      • bobthis - Mar 4, 2012 at 9:58 AM

        You could have said all that in one sentence. Way too long.

  9. nicosanchez02 - Mar 3, 2012 at 11:10 AM

    So in other words, he had the opportunity to either get an assist for the win, or a pull up j and continue their win streak. But did neither! Oy vey Lebrob!

  10. pensfan29 - Mar 3, 2012 at 11:13 AM

    we all know that if the guy he passed to makes that shot. everyone would be saying what a pass by lebron.

    • berbes - Mar 4, 2012 at 9:33 AM

      or at least kurt would be.

  11. shockexchange - Mar 3, 2012 at 11:24 AM

    Looks like someone has been reading the “Lebron Rules” >>

  12. red2redman - Mar 3, 2012 at 11:42 AM

    Great players take that shot, Jordan, kobe, bird, magic and I bet if wade had the ball he takes the shot! Keep making excuses for no heart Bron Bron!!

  13. david8726 - Mar 3, 2012 at 11:50 AM

    Given how hot he was (8 for 9 in the 4th quarter), I think the better play overall was probably for him to get a shot off himself. If he could do it over again, he probably would shoot it himself.

    But I will never bash on someone for making a good basketball play and passing to the open man. Haslem was open and got a good shot off from one of his highest % shots on the floor.

    Superstar players *don’t* always take the last shot. Jordan won two titles passing off to Paxson and Kerr in the final seconds.

    LeBron is not afraid to take the last shot. He’s taken and made plenty of game winners throughout his career and will do so again in the future.

    To me, if you are looking for someone to be mad at for last night’s loss, it would be Dwade. He fouled Devin Harris on jump shots not once but twice during the last two minutes, giving up three free points. Fouling jump shooters is a much worse offense than passing to the open man, I think.

    • rabbiart - Mar 3, 2012 at 8:57 PM

      Against LA, the Bulls did not win because Jordan passed to Paxson in the final seconds. Paxson was on fire and Jordan dished him the rock repeatedly for open jumpers in the corner. Watch clips of the 4Q huddle and you’ll see the ZenMaster telling Jordan to give it to Pax. Title 5 was won on a last second dish to Kerr. Watch the clip and you’ll see Jordan on the bench telling Kerr he’s dropping the dime to him when the double team comes.

      Also… for whatever reason, Jordan’s teammates made the big last second shot. President Johnson (the original LBJ for you young-uns) seems to have a knack for giving it to the wrong guy.

  14. savvybynature - Mar 3, 2012 at 11:59 AM

    Umm, that “review” of the game is not how it happened at all. Between Big Al’s hook shot that gave Utah the lead and the pass to Udonis Haslem you left out: A couple threes by LBJ, a missed layup by Devin Harris with a put back by Big Al, some FTs from Devin Harris after Wade made a stupid foul of him, a missed FT by Wade, and btw the game was won on a And-1 by Harris when Wade committed another stupid foul. If you are going to give a recap of the game it would be helpful to have watched the game or at least know what you are talking about.

  15. jjordannba - Mar 3, 2012 at 11:59 AM

    The Jazz didn’t take the lead on an Al Jefferson hook shot, it was Devin Harris 3 point play that gave them the 1 point lead

    • david8726 - Mar 3, 2012 at 12:01 PM

      ^^ A key point when discussing that end game situation.

      The Heat would have never even been in that position to potentially lose that game had Wade not fouled Harris as he took his floater.

      • kinggw - Mar 3, 2012 at 3:06 PM

        Or if he made the free throw before that possession, that would have given the Heat a 3 point lead.

  16. atom665 - Mar 3, 2012 at 12:03 PM

    It’s simple. He’s afraid to shoot that shot. It was not the right play. He was open enough to get a good look. He should of just took himself out. Why even be on the court.

  17. cantonbound13 - Mar 3, 2012 at 12:36 PM

    Miami’s paying this guy $120 million and he can’t take or make a game winning shot? Suckers!!!!

    • gmsingh - Mar 4, 2012 at 2:38 PM

      And yet there are “pundits” that say LeBron is in the running for MVP. When did MVP come to mean “most likely to help the team lose a game”?

  18. cumonkbe - Mar 3, 2012 at 1:24 PM

    You guys want to blame on the guy that erased the 18 pts lead and gave the team the chance to win the game because he has basketball iq, passing up to his teammate when he was doubled team and trusts his teammate?

    You guys would be whinning if he had jacked up the shot over two defenders while his teammate was wide opened.

    Basketball is a team basketball and if you play basketball you know that you cannot win all by yourself.

    Miami should have benched dwade on defense for fouling Harris beyond the 3pt line. Wade is not a rookie and should know that you cannot jumb INTO a defender when he is going up for a shot.

    If the had benched wade on defense after that play, Harris would not have earned that bonus point at the line.

    If wade cannot control his momentum then he should raise his hands up and obstruct the shooter view of the basketball, instead of diving right into the defender.

    • passerby23 - Mar 3, 2012 at 10:53 PM

      No one is blaming Lebron for erasing an 18-point deficit, this is about the end of the game and what a closer is supposed to do. The problem isn’t the pass per se, it’s as if he doesn’t want to take the shot that almost certainly would’ve presented itself. One more aggressive dribble and pull-up and the shot was there, but it was clear he was timing the defense to collapse so he could pass it to someone else. And you can always fall back on “Well, he was open, it was the better basketball play” but I’m not buying it.

      Why do offensive sets go out the window at the end of the game? Because they don’t matter. It’s all about giving the ball to your best player and asking him to create a play or make the shot himself.

      As I mentioned further down, it’s also easy to look good making plays when you’re down 20 when you’re playing loose. Not only that, but you kind of have to play harder just to get back in the game.

      The thing for me is Lebron looks as if he doesn’t want to be that guy. He seems to want the escape valve to say something like “I trust my teammates to make those shots” or “it was the smarter play.”

  19. pistolpete0903 - Mar 3, 2012 at 1:31 PM

    Will keep this objective.
    Let’s face it, LBJ has never been a good SHOOTER (I am not saying he has to be Ray Allen good, but more like Kobe and MJ good). I reckon he is a better player than both of them while driving to the hoop. Good decision on his part, bad on Haslem that he didn’t make it.
    LBJ better improve on his jump shot to keep defenses honest; at some point he has to make shots (read jump shots) in the clutch. Barring the playoff series against Detroit and Boston (few years ago), he never helped his cause as a choker.

  20. addictedzone - Mar 3, 2012 at 1:34 PM

    You’re right Matt

    35 point, 10 boards, 6 assists, 0 turnovers… the most dominant performance in the NBA on the day. That’s who LeBron James is.

    Finding fault with that performance, that’s who the nattering nabobs of negativism are.

    • rabbiart - Mar 3, 2012 at 9:00 PM

      You don’t put up the line that President Johnson did in the 4th quarter, including the totally ridiculous 3-pointer that went straight to the bottom of the net, and then dish the final shot to the 4th best option on the floor that can’t remember the last time he shot the ball. You just don’t!

  21. bearsstillsuck - Mar 3, 2012 at 1:44 PM

    Lebron is a choker, always will be. I dont get why they just dont bench him at the end of a game. At this point in his career, he knows his strengths and weaknesses, and theres nothing wring with admitting you cant do it. But is it this sites job to protect him?

  22. alfiemonstaa - Mar 3, 2012 at 3:06 PM

    You guys get off lebrons nutts!

    • berbes - Mar 4, 2012 at 9:35 AM

      he has nuts???

  23. lameasish - Mar 3, 2012 at 3:10 PM

    You people are completely lame and bitter. IT WAS the right thing to do, what about wade’s missed free throw, what about wade’s stupid fouls? He’s a coward? I would say the guy behind a keyboard is the coward. I guess all he had to do is shoot right?, and if he missed then what? Everyone would be saying he should have passed. How can you go though life caring so much about another man? The last thing I will say is, “bench him at the end of the game” whoever said that has no business making comments. He drew two defenders and passed to a WIDE open guy, ya LeBron really lost the game and should not have been out there. Keep hating boys buy try not to be obsessed over another man, seems kind of…

  24. passerby23 - Mar 3, 2012 at 3:25 PM

    You should care about this because:

    It’s indicative of a larger trend of Lebron not wanting to take the big risk when it counts. MJ and Kobe passed to open players because they were double-teamed and HAD to pass them the ball, which made it a better basketball play. Until you HAVE TO give it up, when the ball is in your hands at the end of the game, the team’s closer is to look to score. Lebron was looking for the defense to collapse on him so he could kick it out to someone else.

    Another reason why you should care:

    Nobody ever discredits Lebron’s gaudy stat lines and ability to make great plays. He could go for 50, 20, and 20. Nobody is disputing that greatness. This is all about the end of the game when the big shot matters, where championships are won and lost.

    Yet another reason why you should care:

    Lebron’s microscope would be a lot smaller had he not brought this on himself. He joined with superstars. He promised multiple championships (which means making clutch plays when they count). He danced around at a pep rally.

    It’s easy to play loose and make shots when you’re down 20 because you don’t have much left to lose at that point. It’s when things tighten up and you’re paid the big bucks to make the big plays that people care about. Nobody is asking Eddy Curry to make the game-ending shot. If he was making $15 million more, the expectations would be a little higher.

    • slowclyde86 - Mar 3, 2012 at 7:46 PM

      This post is spot on.

  25. lucky5934 - Mar 3, 2012 at 4:47 PM

    This is more than being a choker. Lebron is lazy without the ball. Their is no he is standing on the outside waiting for the ball. As someone said earlier in this post, he is not a great shooter. And with the talent around him, there is no reason why he can’t receive some decent post up or driving opportunities. But the fact is he doesn’t move much without the ball. He doesn’t work hard at all to get that open look in his comfort zone. Then he is outside of his shooting comfort zone and chickens out on the shot. If he was smart, he would pay Reggie Miller to help him with that, as Miller was one of the all time best of moving without the ball. However, Miller had the heart and desire to get open and take those clutch shots. Lebron, as gifted as he is physically, lacks the heart and desire to take his game to the next level. Above all else, he is complacent. Which in my opinion is much worse than being a choker.

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