CLEVELAND, Ohio – In sports, memories are made in seconds and last a lifetime. Stress strips away pretenses and reveals a player’s true character.
The last two minutes of the 2016 NBA Finals gave Cleveland Cavaliers fans three plays for eternity, which were by three of the greatest players in franchise history. But one play that was lost in the glare of victory also revealed one player’s character flaw.
LeBron James’ almost impossible chase-down block of Andre Iguodala’s fast-break layup in the last 1 minute, 50 seconds preserved the tie that Kyrie Irving’s 3-pointer broke.
Of all James’ basketball gifts, shot blocking is hardly his biggest. But it was his supreme moment of self-actualization.
The 3-point shot was what made Steph Curry’s name, game and fame. The three was how his team had lived and how it would die in 2016.
Irving, isolated on Curry on a pick-and-roll, sank a step-back three in Curry’s face to give the Cavs the lead with 53 seconds to play.
Irving’s present unpopularity because of his trade request aside, he will always be remembered for hitting the greatest shot in NBA Finals history, in terms of game situation and quality of opposition.
James, rather than dominating the ball and demanding to close the game, looked at coach Ty Lue and jabbed a thumb at Irving during a timeout with 1:10 to play, ceding the moment to his teammate and refuting Irving’s whining.
Kevin Love got no statistics for the biggest play of his career in the last half-minute of the game.
This off-season, the Cavaliers tried to trade Love, their best rebounder, although his stats were better and his prospective place in history higher than any of the players Cleveland sought in return.
Considered the weakest defender of the Cavaliers’ starters, Love played 10 seconds of memorable seventh-game defense against Golden State’s two-time NBA Most Valuable Player Steph Curry, the unanimous choice for the award that season.
Using length to complement agility few thought he possessed, Love moved his feet as if he, and not dancer Michael Flatley, had “feet of flames.”
Curry admitted he should have tried to drive around Love for a 2-pointer, but instead, he missed a three against a strong challenge.
In the last 10 seconds of the game, Love was on the bench for defensive purposes. As he has done in accepting his role as the team’s third offensive option, self-effacing Love made no complaint.
James rebounded Curry’s miss with 29 seconds to play and fed Irving, who dribbled off on a hell-bent-for-glory, one-on-several fast break against the dictates of score and clock management.
Think of Bluto in his “It’s not over!” speech (Warning: Graphic language), rushing from the frat house without support in “Animal House.”
Seven seconds later, Iguodala got his second block of the game on Irving’s driving layup.
The ball, stricken, wobbled into the air, giving Irving the chance to reclaim it and fling it to Love as Irving toppled out of bounds. Irving thus narrowly avoided becoming the latest in the long line of fumblers, interception throwers and save blowers that have bedeviled Cleveland’s teams.
James, Irving, Love. Self-actualization, self-aggrandizement, self-effacement. A Big Three, belittled by a peek at what was to come.