CLEVELAND — OG Anunoby had just made the biggest shot of his rookie season, a rattling 3-pointer with eight seconds left that completed a 17-point Toronto Raptors comeback to tie Game 3 of the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Cavaliers.
Cavs coach Tyronn Lue called his final timeout and stepped into the huddle.
What happened Saturday night in Cleveland will be remembered for quite some time — in quite different ways.
Cavs fans will never forget yet another mind-boggling addition to the long list of late-game LeBron James heroics, drawing specific memories of a similar jaw-dropper he hit against the Chicago Bulls in 2015. Raptors faithful will be talking about it … very, very differently, and probably not with language we can include.
Here’s what followed on Saturday night, from the perspective of those who lived it:
LeBron James, Cavs forward: “It should never have come down to that point. We had a really good lead to start the fourth, and we came out and didn’t execute and didn’t play the way we should have.”
Dwane Casey, Raptors coach: “Well, our goal in the timeout was to trap him and make someone else beat us.”
James: “T. Lue was the one who told us, ‘Let’s take it full court,’ knowing I had more than enough time to get the ball up the court, and by us doing that it doesn’t allow the defense to kind of sit and see what you’re going to do.”
Ty Lue, Cavs coach: “The play is called ‘3 Open.'”
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The Cavs ran the same play in Washington in February 2017, when James ended up hitting a memorable banked-in 3-pointer at the buzzer to send the game to overtime. That last-second prayer might not have been necessary if James had made a layup the previous possession after “3 Open” got him a great look at the rim.
George Hill, Cavs guard: “When they came out of the huddle, they didn’t expect us to inbound full court. They were confused a little bit.”
CJ Miles, Raptors forward: “The reason they took it out from full court was so we can’t [double-team]. If you run at him 40 feet from the basket, he can see the whole floor and somebody is getting an open shot.”
Fred VanVleet, Raptors guard: “Obviously in that position, best-case scenario you get the ball out of his hands.”
OG Anunoby, Raptors forward: “We didn’t really think about trapping him. Maybe in hindsight.”
Casey: “It was probably my fault that I didn’t make it clear that we wanted to trap him and get the ball out of his hands.”
James: “I think a coach would sleep a little bit better if they lost the game without me making it.”
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The Cavs struggled a bit to get the ball in bounds, and both Hill and James came for the ball. When it was inbounded, James was briefly in the corner with Anunoby and Pascal Siakam in position to double-team. But the trap didn’t materialize, and James turned the corner. Cavs forward Kevin Love came and set a slip screen to give James some separation from Anunoby.
Casey: “He split the trap and went 100 miles an hour down the floor and lost them. We just didn’t execute.”
James: “I had more than enough time to get the ball from one baseline to the other; that’s way more time than I needed. They did a good job of putting pressure on me in the backcourt, and they put two on me first, and I was able to get open.”
VanVleet: “The way the play broke down, it was a tough, weird play. And there was really no way for OG to slow him down.”
Kyle Korver, Cavs guard: “We’re spacing [the floor]. Bron is going to put his head down, he’s going to get to the basket. It’s just, he’s hardest to guard when he’s got a full head of steam. So, the more space he has, the larger his head of steam.”
Kyle Lowry, Raptors guard: “You know he’s going left.”
Kevin Love, Cavs forward: “He saw that lane, and I know, to me, it looked like he could’ve got a little closer, but that rhythm was there for him.”
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With 1.9 seconds left on the clock and just below the foul line extended, James picked up his dribble and started his move. Anunoby was on him, but Miles stayed in the corner near Korver, instead of helping.
Miles: “LeBron’s shot is way tougher than Kyle shooting the ball in the corner at that moment. He’s shooting a one-foot floater from 15 feet with his body facing the crowd. There’s no need for me to help off Korver in that situation. I felt that was smart thing to do at that moment.”
Korver: “I’ve seen him shoot that shot countless times at shootaround when he’s just like messing around. He’ll shoot all these crazy shots all the time. And you’re like, ‘Man, when would he shoot that shot?’ Maybe to win a playoff game, apparently.”
Hill: “Today was, I guess, the day he pulled that out of the toolbox.”
James: “When do I decide which shot I’m going to take? To be honest, sometimes I really don’t know, but I trust every shot that I’m going to take because I work on every shot.”
Lowry: “He got to his spot. There’s not much going through your mind. At that point, you’re just like, ‘OG, get a contest.'”
Miles: “It’s the shot you’d want him to take in that situation.”
Love: “He knocked it down going to his left, almost fading away a little bit and shooting with one hand.”
Anunoby: “I feel like he made a tough shot.”
James: “The level of difficulty of that is very difficult. Don’t try it at home.”
Korver: “It looked good the whole way.”
Lue: “I just knew it went in, I didn’t know how it was going [in].”
Lowry: “I didn’t want it to be real.”
Jeff Green, Cavs forward: “I think everybody this time was just in awe. It’s amazing to continue to watch, watch what he does.”
James: “I live for those moments.”
Korver: “I think we’re expecting him to win the game in the end when it’s close. We feel like he’s going to make the plays.”
Green: “I’m glad he’s on our team.”
Hill: “It’s satisfying, because he put me out every year [with the Indiana Pacers]. I’m happy to be on the other side.”
James: “I’ve been doing that since I was like 6, 7, 8 years old. Maybe even before that. There’s a picture floating around of me beside a Little Tikes hoop with a saggy Pamper on and I was doing it back then and all the way up until now, at 33. Things that you dream about, that you get those opportunities, and I’ve been fortunate enough to get a handful of those in some of the biggest moments in my career.”