Sports

LeBron James Gives the Play-In Tournament Its Instant-Classic Highlight

LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 19: LeBron James #23 of the Los Angeles Lakers scores the game winning three point basket against Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors in the closing minute of an NBA Tournament Play-In game at Staples Center on May 19, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. 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 Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
LeBron, aiming for the middle rim. Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

LeBron James hit the biggest shot in NBA play-in tournament history. Granted, it was the only big shot in the NBA play-in tournament’s two-day history, but his deep, out-of-rhythm 3-pointer near the end of Wednesday’s game against the Golden State Warriors gave the Lakers a 103-100 victory and helped Los Angeles clinch a spot in the actual, real playoffs.

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The shot can only be described as “Steph Curry-like,” which is impressive considering he made it over Curry and during a game in which Curry hit plenty of Steph Curry-like shots himself. It must have been a dissociative event for the Golden State point guard, and his body language conveyed utter disbelief as the ball dropped through the net.

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The Warriors botched their chances to tie the contest and now must play the Memphis Grizzlies, winners of the evening’s earlier play-in game, to see who gets to be the Western Conference’s No. 8 seed in the playoffs. It’s a cruel sentence for a Warriors team that outplayed the defending champions for much of the night but came undone in a turnover-heavy second half. Curry has been an MVP candidate all season and lived up to that sterling reputation (37 points, 6 for 9 from deep) while Draymond Green put on a defensive clinic and made Anthony Davis look like Glen Davis (still a professional basketball player, just not, you know, Anthony Davis). Heck, even Andrew Wiggins was pulling off stuff like this.

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But LeBron James is still LeBron James, and that tends to be enough in situations like these. He may have missed 27 games with a hurt ankle during this shortened season, but LeBron managed to post a triple-double on Wednesday with 22 points, 11 rebounds, and 10 assists. The final four of those points were scored with a squinty, red eye after James took a shot to the face from Green while driving to the hoop late in the fourth quarter.

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The knock only added to the lore of his instant-classic buzzer beater. Afterwards, LeBron deadpanned to ESPN’s Rachel Nichols, “I was literally seeing three rims out there. I just shot for the middle one.”

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The NBA will consider itself lucky that the Lakers played poorly enough during the regular season to find themselves scrapping in this most thrilling play-in tournament game. The event now has a go-to highlight, one that was ironically delivered by the experiment’s harshest critic. “Whoever came up with that shit needs to be fired,” LeBron said earlier this month as he and his team found themselves sliding towards a play-in spot. Not the best call, but hindsight is 20/20, even with blurred vision.

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