Cleveland Cavaliers superstar LeBron James had a performance for the ages Wednesday night.
He scored 44 points with 10 rebounds and eight assists, and his heroics in the final seconds helped Cleveland defeat the Indiana Pacers 98-95 to take Game 5 of their first-round playoff series.
The Pacers’ Victor Oladipo had the ball with just seconds remaining in a tied game. He drove to the rim and attempted a layup with under five seconds to go, only for James to come up with the clutch block.
The Cavaliers quickly secured the rebound and called a timeout, giving Cleveland possession of the ball with three seconds to go on Indiana’s side of the court.
There was really never any question regarding which Cavalier was going to get the inbound pass. James caught the ball, dribbled to the top of the key, then launched a three-pointer over the Pacers’ Thaddeus Young.
The ball went in right as the buzzer sounded, giving the Cavaliers the win and making James the hero.
Had that been the whole story — James comes up with a clutch block and then knocks down a buzzer-beating three on the other end — there might have been nothing else to do but praise James for his heroics.
But ultimately, it’s not quite that simple.
You see, if you look carefully at the replay of James’ block, it sure looks like the ball hit the backboard before James’ hand made contact with it. And if that is indeed what happened, the referees should have called it a goaltend, thus putting two points on the board for the Pacers.
Oladipo certainly seemed to think the refs missed the call. He even indicated in the postgame news conference that he thought James had fouled him on his way to the basket.
“I got a step on him,” said Oladipo, who scored 12 points on 2-for-15 shooting in the loss. “I felt like I even got grabbed on the way to the rim, tried to shoot a layup, it hit the backboard, then he blocked it.”
“It was a goaltend. It’s hard to even speak on it. It just sucks, honestly. It really sucks. Even though we fought our way back, we tied the game up, that layup was huge,” he added, according to USA Today.
Of course, it’s worth noting that even if the block had been called a goaltend, James’ three-pointer at the buzzer still would have been enough to give Cleveland the win. According to Oladipo, though, things might have turned out differently had the Cavaliers gone into their final possession down by two instead of deadlocked at 95.
“Give him credit where credit is due. The (three-pointer) was big-time. Definitely huge. But who’s to say they even run that play? We don’t know what happens. It’s unfortunate. It really sucks that they missed that,” he said.
Pacers guard Lance Stephenson agreed completely, noting after the game that replays prove the block was “clearly” goaltending.
“Of course, I thought it was goaltending,” Stephenson said. “We should’ve got the ref’s attention. When you look at it on the replay, it’s clearly goaltending.”
Replay would not have mattered in this case, though, said Joe Borgia, who serves as the NBA’s senior vice president of replay and referee operations
In order for this play to have been reviewed, goaltending would have had to be called on the floor.
James, meanwhile, thought the idea of his block actually being a goaltend was laughable.
“I definitely thought it was a goaltend,” James said with sarcasm in his voice, according to ESPN. “Of course I didn’t think it was a goaltend. I try to make plays like that all the time and I mean he made a heck of a move, got me leaning right and he went left and I just tried to use my recovery speed and get back up there and make a play on the ball. And I was able to make a play.”
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