At the timeout late Wednesday, Dwyane Wade got close to LeBron James, closer than any Pacer would get on the next possession. There was nothing left for Wade to do now. His night, after a sixth foul, was done.
“Hey, go win it,” Wade urged.
Hey, why not?
Hey, why not make everyone forget Ray Allen’s missed free throw late in regulation?
And Paul George’s 30-foot, overtime-forcing jumper?
And Wade’s foul of George with 2.2 seconds left, which led to three free throws, and this one-point deficit?
Hey, why not make a little late magic?
““I had enough time where I could get to the basket and make a play,” James said.
And, hey, that’s what he did, to give the Heat a 103-102 opening victory in this, his fifth Eastern Conference finals.
He did it by shedding Paul George with his right arm, catching the in-bounds pass from Shane Battier. He did it by peeking over his left shoulder, and seeing George a step out of place. James did it knowing that, while the play had begun with other possibilities, such as Chris Bosh darting to the rim and Allen slipping to the corner, that only one choice would do.
“Once I got the ball, I was the only option,” James said. “Especially with there only being two-plus seconds. As unselfish a player as I am, I cannot no way try to make a pass at that point.”
So he didn’t.
“I took off,” James said. “I knew I had enough time to get to the rim.”
He did so with the knowledge that the Pacers’ tallest tree wouldn’t be there to meet him, to swat the ball with an extended branch. Frank Vogel had chosen, oddly, to remove Roy Hibbert from the overtime once already, with 24.6 seconds left, and James had exploited a switch, and the shorter George Hill, to drive for a layup.
Now Hibbert was out again, with Vogel later explaining that he was concerned about the center’s ability to cover Bosh on a spot-up jumper. Bosh shot 53 percent from 16 to 23 feet this season, the best in the NBA of anyone with comparable volume. James, of course, shot close to 80 percent at the rim.
“I would say that we’ll probably have him in next time,” Vogel said.
James said it wouldn’t have mattered, that he was attacking anyway.
Would the result have been the same?
“I don’t know,” James said. “Any of us know that?”
Not for sure.
But now we know what happened. He did what he hasn’t always done since joining the Heat in these situations. Sure, there was the buzzer-beater against Orlando earlier this season. But there were also layups, as he went left, that were deflected or affected by the likes of Joakim Noah and Amare Stoudemire. And there were jumpers, too many jumpers.
“You have to make LeBron shoot a jumper at that point,” George said. “I pressured. I was up too close on him. You have to make him shoot a jumper. That’s what we wanted. We wanted LeBron to shoot a jumper right there.”
These days, James shoots what he wants, when he wants.
This time, after he lost George, the coast was clear.
So was the mission.
He had 28 points, to go with 10 rebounds and 10 assists.
He needed two more, or Miami would be down 0-1.
“It’s my job to go out there and make it happen,” James said, downplaying his feat. “It’s not like I made something half-court. I made a layup. I’ve been doing that since I was 8 years old.”
Then he relented.
“I understand the circumstances a little bit,” James said. “It happened to have been in the Eastern Conference finals. When you practice something over and over, it’s just second nature to you.”
The second game of this series is Friday.
Hey, maybe he will go win that one, too.