LeBron James explains passing on potential game-winning layup: ‘Melo’s look was a lot better than mine’

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Should LeBron James have passed in crunch time or taken the shot himself?

The longstanding debate reemerged in the Lakers’ overtime loss to the Rockets last night.

With the game tied the final seconds of regulation, LeBron drove to the rim but kicked out to Carmelo Anthony. Anthony missed the jumper as time expired.

LeBron:

On the drive, I had an angle, for sure. And then David Nwaba came over. And I took a lone 1-2 step and ended up behind the backboard. I was a little bit off balance. And I could’ve forced a reverse layup, but I wasn’t in the position to feel like I could have gotten a great look. I could have got a decent look, and I feel like Melo’s look was a lot better than mine. So, it’s literally that simple.

LeBron didn’t have a great look. But Anthony letting a hard closeout shoot past then dribbling into a somewhat-rushed long 2-pointer wasn’t a great look, either.

The lesson LeBron had to learn earlier in his career – a contested shot by him is sometimes more efficient than an open shot by a teammate – might have applied yesterday.

LeBron’s critics are underestimating the problem caused by him getting behind the backboard (part of the reason Houston – defending the rim – let him look so open). That’s a tough angle. It’s also tough to watch the play and assess LeBron’s balance. If he felt unbalanced in the moment, that should push him toward passing rather than shooting.

Still, even if LeBron made the correct decision to pass, he didn’t necessarily make the right pass. Austin Reaves was cutting through the paint and fairly open. A point-blank look for Reaves – who has already demonstrated his clutch poise – probably would’ve been a higher-percentage look.

LeBron:

Yeah, but Russ was diving at the same time. So, I didn’t have a – Russ dove and, I believe, ran into Jalen Green at the same time. And I saw Austin, but I didn’t have a – If I throw the ball that way, and he misses it, now it’s going that way. I couldn’t afford to do that.

There were fewer than three seconds left when LeBron passed. Even if the ball got by Reaves, there wasn’t enough time for Houston to start a fastbreak the other direction.

As much benefit of the doubt as LeBron has earned to make the right play, last night’s fourth-quarter ender invites plenty of second-guessing.

That’s what happens with a team that keeps losing.