Rising to the Occasion

In N.B.A. Basketball by Brock Bourgase

Criticisms abound regarding Bob Delaney’s pass on the contact between LeBron James and Bruce Bowen during Cleveland’s last three-pointer Wednesday. Whilst Bowen’s physical defence straddles a fine line between fair and foul and his persistence on the perimeter is certainly a challenge that his opponent must overcome, the play in question was not particularly relevant to the outcome of Game 3.

  • The Cavaliers’ poor execution throughout the encounter, including the three and a half minute scoreless stretch between 5:28 and 1:54 of the fourth quarter, is mostly responsible for their loss. The Spurs provided countless chances but the home team was neither calm nor composed enough to take advantage.
  • James could have redeemed his teammates down the stretch but missed a number of shots (“It’s a make or miss league,” said Jeff Van Gundy). The game’s penultimate shot was unlikely to succeed irrespective of any contact. Beyond the arc, James shot 31.1% during the year, including 31.8% at home and 27.9% in the playoffs. Cleveland had converted 3/18 three point shots to that point, buzzer beaters tend to fail three quarters of the time, and – thanks to the end-out Mike Brown diagramed which called for an outside shot off the dribble – James had a lot of momentum going to his left. All things considered, James had less than a fifteen percent chance to make that shot before the intentional attempt to foul.

The previous play, when James passed out of a double-team to Anderson Varejao, who missed a lay-up, was the Cavaliers’ last chance to win the game. James could have attacked the trap, drawn a foul, or received a return pass from Varejao and taken a mid-range step-back jumpshot. Teams must seize opportunities when they occur, a task that Cleveland was not ready to achieve.