Welcome to "One Play!" Throughout the 2019-20 NBA season, our NBA.com Staff will break down certain possessions from certain games and peel back the curtains to reveal its bigger meaning.
You already know the play that's taking today's spotlight: LeBron James finds Danny Green for an open 3.
Context: Trailing the Miami Heat by one point with 16.8 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter of Game 5 of the NBA Finals, the Los Angeles Lakers had one more chance to win the game.
With an opportunity to raise their first NBA title in 10 years, Danny Green inbounded the ball to LeBron James to begin a potential go-ahead opportunity. James had 40 points on the night and had been virtually unstoppable, scoring seven of the Lakers' last nine points in the quarter. Green had just checked back into the game for the first time since just after the four-minute mark and had been 2-for-4 from beyond the arc on the night.
Now that you know the situation, let's dive into the play.
The play: James finds Green for an open 3 and a chance to win the game.
The breakdown: Once Green inbounds the ball, he kills a few seconds by heading toward the baseline to set up what appears to be an isolation opportunity for James. The Lakers weren't fooling anyone, as Green jumps back toward James to set a screen (and I use that term very loosely) to try and create a switch so that James can attack a lesser defender in Duncan Robinson.
Los Angeles has used Robinson's matchup as a screener for James all series, trying to give LeBron the mismatch he desires in going at the weakest defender on the floor.
With nothing but space in front of him, James denies Green's pick and makes his move the second Jimmy Butler looks to see where the screen is coming from, getting a full head of steam toward the basket.
LeBron knows the Heat are going to make any other player on the floor beat them. It only takes one more dribble toward the basket to attract the gravity of all five Miami defenders, forcing James to make a decision.
When he gathers his dribble and rises up, James has three lengthy defenders surrounding him: Robinson (6-foot-7), Butler (6-foot-7) and All-Defensive Second Team rim protector Bam Adebayo (6-foot-9).
Let's discuss LeBron's options.
- Option No. 1: He could force up a shot while triple-teamed. No one would question that decision. He's the best player on the team and has 40 points for the game. We've seen him hit shots of a tougher magnitude with the game on the line, but it goes against his natural instinct as a playmaker to find an open man when there is one.
- Option No. 2: He could try and drop off a pass to Anthony Davis, but an elite defender in Andre Iguodala does a great job of sliding down on the weakside to try and cut that option off, taking the team's second-best player out of the equation.
- Option No. 3: He could also drop off a pass to Markieff Morris on the strongside corner, but Jae Crowder does a good job of staying home and would have been able to recover quickly, making that a tough look.
- Option No. 4: He could try and sneak a pass all the way to the corner to find Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who was 3-for-8 from 3-point range on the night and has been spectacular on catch-and-shoot 3s this postseason, knocking down 41.2% of those looks. That's by far the hardest pass to make, having to skip it across a lengthy and savvy defender like Iguodala, although we've seen LeBron make jaw-dropping passes like that before.
- Option No. 5: The play James decided to make.
LeBron saw a wide open Green standing all alone at the top of the key and kicked it out to him.
Look at all that space.
I'll let the clip play out again below before dissecting the decision.
Was it the right decision? Yes. Undeniably, unquestionably, a resounding yes. I couldn't feel more strongly about it.
Yes, LeBron had the hot hand and sometimes you want the best player on the floor (or in the world) to take matters into their own hands regardless of the circumstance. Yes, Green has been struggling this postseason, shooting just 33.3% from beyond the arc. No, Green did not make the game-winning shot, but he checked back into the game for the sole purpose of being ready to shoot a 3 once the defence collapsed on James. The play unfolded how it was likely drawn up in the Lakers huddle.
In case you forgot, Green once had the all-time NBA Finals record for 3s in a series with 27 back in 2013. There's only three players in NBA Finals history (min. of 50 attempts) - Shane Battier, Kevin Durant and Ray Allen - that have a higher 3-point percentage for their career on this stage than Green's 42%. Being the playmaker that he is, James delivered a strike through a triple-team to find what's supposed to be one of the Lakers' best 3-point marksmen as open as can be with an NBA title on the line.
After the game, LeBron stood by his decision to pass it to Green: "It's one of the best shots we could've gotten. Danny had a hell of a look. I know he wish he could have it again, I wish I could make a better pass. You just live with it."
And he'd live with the outcome of that situation 100 times out of 100.
When you're as great as LeBron James is, you'll get critiqued even when you make the right play.
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