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

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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.

LeBron James flips elimination-game game on its head

AP Photo/Charles Krupa
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His Cavaliers down 3-2 to the Celtics in the Eastern Conference finals, how does LeBron James assess his situation?

"I don’t enjoy being in the position where it’s you lose and go home," LeBron said before Game 6 tonight in Cleveland.

He might not enjoy this position, but he’s pretty good in it.

Since he first reached the playoffs in 2006, other teams have won 26% of their elimination games. LeBron’s teams have won 57% of theirs.

Of course, LeBron hasn’t gone 12-9 in elimination games just because he’s lucky. He has willed his team off the mat numerous times.

LeBron has scored 40 points and/or had a triple-double in six straight elimination games, winning five of them. His line in his last elimination game before that streak? Just 32 points, 18 rebounds and nine assists.

A full history of LeBron’s elimination games:

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Rockets played with fire with Chris Paul, got burned

AP Photo/David J. Phillip
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Chris Paul played 79 minutes in three days.

Prior to Games 4 and 5 of these Western Conference finals, he hadn’t done that in more than two years. He hadn’t done it without both games going to overtime in more than three years.

The Rockets leaned heavily on the 33-year-old Paul, and they’ll pay the price.

Paul will miss Game 6 against the Warriors tomorrow. Given how quickly Houston ruled out Paul with a strained hamstring, he seems unlikely to play in a potential Game 7 Monday.

Injuries are somewhat – but not completely – random. Players are more susceptible when worn down. After missing the close of the 2016 postseason, Paul missed 45 games the last two regular seasons. He has accumulated a lot of mileage in his 13-year career.

Yet, Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni drastically shortened his rotation, anyway. Not only did Paul play big minutes in this series, he shouldered a huge load. He took the reins of the offense at times, allowing James Harden to conserve energy for defense, while maintaining his own strong-two way play. That’s never easy, especially in these high-intensity games.

This was the risk.

We can feel bad for Paul and his predicament. We can also acknowledge Houston got this far by gambling on Paul’s health.

That’s not to say it was a bad bet. This is what you save him for, the biggest playoff series of his career and maybe one of the last before he exits his prime. The Rockets would have been far worse off to this point resting Paul extensively and protecting him. Even with such a heavy workload, an injury was never fait accompli. And Houston got plenty from Paul before he went down. He was instrumental to wins in Game 4 and Game 5 that gave the Rockets a 3-2 lead in the Western Conference finals.

Now, they just must hope that’s enough of a head-start into a world of playing without Paul.

Chris Paul out for Rockets-Warriors Game 6

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The Rockets bought themselves margin for error by earning home-court advantage and taking a 3-2 lead in the Western Conference finals.

They’ll need it.

Chris Paul will miss Game 6 against the Warriors tomorrow with a strained hamstring.

Rockets release:

The Houston Rockets announced today that guard Chris Paul will miss Saturday’s game at Golden State with a right hamstring strain that occurred during the fourth quarter of last night’s game against the Warriors. He will be re-evaluated after the team returns to Houston.

Golden State was already heavily favored at home. This will tilt the odds even further in its favor.

But the Rockets aren’t completely incapable without Paul. They went 15-9 without him this season. James Harden and Eric Gordon can assume extra playmaking duty.

Still, this is a massive loss. When Harden is overburdened offensively, his defense suffers. Gordon is already playing a lot of minutes, so greater responsibility will come in role, not playing time. To fill Paul’s minutes, Mike D’Antoni will have to expand a rotation he had masterfully tightened. Gerald Green could play more. Luc Mbah a Moute could return to the rotation.

A Game 7 looks increasingly likely. Will Paul return for that? The 2018 NBA title might hinge on that question.

Given how quickly the Rockets announced Paul would miss Game 6, there isn’t much reason for optimism about Paul’s availability three days from now, either.

Report: Chris Paul’s hamstring injury ‘not good’

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The question looming over the Western Conference finals: How is Chris Paul?

The Rockets revealed little last night about Paul’s hamstring injury. Time to see how his body responded would provide clarity.

Tim MacMahon of ESPN:

That stinks. It’s also a fairly expected development. Paul appeared to be in rough shape before leaving the court.

The Rockets have bought themselves margin for error, but a sidelined or even hobbled Paul would sap a lot of it.

If Paul can’t play in Game 6 tomorrow, expect Eric Gordon and James Harden to receive a larger offensive roles (though not necessarily more minutes). Gerald Green could play more, and maybe Luc Mbah a Moute gets back into the rotation.