Sports

LeBron Loses Ball, Goaltends, Hits Game-Winner, Splits Atom

CLEVELAND, OH - APRIL 25:  LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers is showered with water by JR Smith #5 while being interviewed after a 98-95 win over the Indiana Pacers in Game Five of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2018 NBA Playoffs at Quicken Loans Arena on April 25, 2018 in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers is showered with water by J.R. Smith while being interviewed after a 98–95 win over the Indiana Pacers in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2018 NBA Playoffs at Quicken Loans Arena on Wednesday in Cleveland, Ohio.
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

NBA referees, like the cosmos, veer toward balance. Planets that both refuse to careen into stars and scurry away from them find orbit. Referees who miss out-of-bounds plays so too turn a blind eye toward surefire goaltends. As a result, the celestial dance continues, and LeBron James hits incredible game-winners.

Going into Game 5, the Cleveland Cavaliers and Indiana Pacers were teetering at two games apiece. Wednesday night was emblematic of the teams’ first-round series as a whole, and it seesawed to-and-fro until a Domantas Sabonis jumper tied matters up at 95 points with a little more than 33 seconds remaining. Naturally, it was LeBron time, and the Cavs’ all-universe superstar stepped up to deliver. But first, he lost the ball.

Eagle-eyed viewers spotted the ball hitting Indiana’s Thaddeus Young before it squirted out of bounds. Even though they had the option to conduct a video review, the refereeing crew decided against it and gave the Pacers possession. Victor Oladipo then shook James to get to the hoop, but LeBron blocked his layup. Or did he? Oladipo’s effort hit the backboard before James swatted it, which, according to the rules, is a goaltend.

Spotting yet another infraction, eagle-eyed viewers proved to be the real MVPs of this game, but plays can’t be reviewed unless they are triggered by a whistle, and so the replay center stayed silent once again. Seconds later, LeBron ascended into orbit to give the Cavs a 3–2 series lead.

It’s also worth mentioning that even if Oladipo’s layup had counted, three is greater than two. LeBron’s buzzer-beater would have prevailed.

James jumped on the scorer’s table to celebrate, a move reminiscent of John Wall’s leap last year after his 3-pointer forced a Game 7 in the Wizards’ conference semifinal versus the Boston Celtics. (The Wizards would go on to lose the series.)

LeBron’s exuberance might seem unbefitting of an all-time great, but we should cut him some slack. Until this year, he hadn’t lost a first-round game since 2012. He’s already lost two in 2018, and a third would have really put Cleveland in a pickle. And besides, that was a shot worth celebrating.

Oladipo, for his part, used the postgame press conference to dress like Angus Young and remind everyone of the playoff schedule.

The Pacers’ star is hoping for balance come Game 6. The universe may want to oblige, but it will have to ask LeBron for permission.