Sports

How the Lakers’ Botched Final Possession in Game 5 Played Out in Alternate Universes

LeBron James and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope look confused at the end of Game 5.
What the heck happened? Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

The script was shaping up rather nicely for Lakers. Down one point at the end of Friday’s Game 5, they had the ball and 16.8 seconds to engineer a dramatic, Finals-winning play. LeBron James drove to the basket, but his drive into the lane was thwarted by a wall of Miami Heat defenders. LeBron, as he does, found the open man, kicking the ball out to Danny Green. The career 40 percent 3-point shooter hoisted a wide-open shot from deep and …

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You’ll notice that this article isn’t headlined “Hero Danny Green Carried Out of Bubble On Teammates’ Shoulders.” Green’s shot wasn’t even close, really, and the ball bounced off the front of the rim and into the hands of the Lakers’ Markieff Morris. Another chance!

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The veteran forward took a dribble, scanned his options, and then … did this.

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Morris was trying to hit Anthony Davis in the post, but the pass was nowhere near his teammate’s reach (and that reach includes the entire greater Orlando area). It wasn’t as if Morris lacked for options. As the Ringer’s Shea Sherrano pointed out, he had LeBron James open to his right.

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If you believe in multiverse theory—and which NBA fan doesn’t?—then you know that, in some dimension, Morris actually did pass the ball to LeBron. What is life like there? Did he hit the shot? Did the Lakers win? Are Doritos packaged like Pringles? (Holy shit: We’re already in that terrifying dimension.)

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We may never know the answer to those questions, but we can still try and push Markieff Morris through a Stargate. Onward!

The universe where Morris passes to James. It’ll get lost in the horror and hilarity of that last possession, but LeBron had one of the best postseason games of his career on Friday. He finished with 40 points, 13 rebounds, 7 assists, and six made 3-pointers. Had Morris found him on the opposite wing, he would’ve had more than just an open shot. He would’ve had a chance to make a Finals-winning jumper, one that would usurp the 2016 chase-down block on Andre Iguodala as the play that defines his legacy. It could’ve been an echo of Michael Jordan’s winner against the Jazz, a swish that erased nearly two decades’ worth of conversations regarding James’ “clutch gene” or lack thereof.

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For that to happen, Morris would’ve had to get him the ball on time and on target. Recall that he whipped the ball to Epcot Center when he tried to get it to Davis. Maybe it’s a good thing he didn’t see LeBron standing all alone to his right—the ensuing pass could’ve shattered the broadcast booth’s plexiglass and knocked Jeff Van Gundy out cold.

Result: Lakers turnover, Heat win, Mike Breen traumatized, LeBron clutchness undetermined.

The universe where Morris passes to Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope calls for the ball from Markieff Morris.
He’s pretty open… ESPN, via Twitter.
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LeBron wasn’t his only option. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope was standing only a few feet away, close enough for Morris to hear his calls for the ball. In what has been one of the more surprising twists of the Finals, Caldwell-Pope has proved to be a legitimate crunch-time option. His shotmaking helped seal Game 4 for the Lakers, and it was a big reason they were able to crawl back in the fourth quarter against Miami on Friday. Had he gotten the ball in that moment, he could’ve joined John Paxson, Steve Kerr, Robert Horry, and Ray Allen in the exclusive club of Dudes Who Get Mentioned When People Talk About Big Finals Shots.

However, a heroic Kentavious Caldwell-Pope would undo all the jokes people have made at his expense since he signed an inflated contract with the Lakers in 2017. Before these playoffs he was a walking, errant-shot-taking example of the benefits one receives when one happens to be repped by LeBron’s friend’s agency. Had he hit a series-winning 3-pointer, all the fans who’d made fun of him for earning tens of millions of dollars would look like fools. The egg would be on all of our faces. Good thing Morris didn’t pass it to him.

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Result: Caldwell-Pope misses, Heat win, Mike Breen untraumatized, LeBron clutchness undetermined.

The universe where Morris passes it back to Danny Green. For a brief moment, it looked as if this was going to happen. Green was right there.

Danny green calls for the ball from Morris.
A second chance, gone. ESPN, via Twitter.
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Sure, he just missed the biggest shot of the season, but Green is uniquely suited to be in this position. While with the San Antonio Spurs in 2013, he set an NBA record for most 3-pointers made in a Finals series. He’s earned the right to have one more shot at postseason immortality.

Granted, he’s shooting 26 percent from behind the arc against Miami. How many chances does he need? Morris may have been protecting his teammate from even more humiliation. Him messing up was actually a kind and selfless act. You want to know what empathy looks like? It looks like Morris winging a pass into Lake Apopka.

Result: Green misses, Heat win, Spurs still win 2013 Finals, LeBron clutchness undetermined.

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The universe where Morris takes the shot himself. The final and most terrifying scenario is one where Markieff Morris tries to win the game all by himself. Note that the Lakers were wearing their special-edition “Mamba” jerseys to honor Kobe Bryant. Would Kobe have passed in that situation? Of course not. Hero ball’s greatest hero would have attempted a fadeaway right in the defender’s eye, shot charts and analytics be damned.

Here’s some “analytics” for the nerds to chew on: You miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take. And, if you’re Morris, you miss 55.7 of the shots you do take. The math is clear: Shoot the jumper and remove all doubt.

Result: Morris makes it, Lakers win, Danny Green relieved, LeBron still criticized for some reason.

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