LeBron James grew up watching Michael Jordan hit big shots. He saw replays of Magic Johnson and Jerry West doing the same. Friday night, he made the type of shot he said he “can stick my foot in that category with Magic and Jerry West and Jordan, and all these other guys that made spectacular plays on the biggest stage in the world.”


Not even LeBron James knows how many times he’s practiced buzzer-beating shots.

Like millions of kids across the country, he grew up doing it day after day on playgrounds, driveways and empty gyms.

He counted the clock down in his head: “Five ... four ... three ... two ... one.”

That’s when he released the shot, just before the imaginary horn sounded, only he wasn’t LeBron James then.

“I was always (Michael) Jordan when I made that shot, because in my era growing up, Mike was always the one who made those ... (where) the light goes off and the crowd goes crazy.”

Fantasy turned to reality Friday night in a way only James can make it happen for the Cleveland Cavaliers.

It wasn’t Jordan beating the Cavs, like he did 20 years ago in the playoffs on “The Shot.”

“That guy is not in the league anymore,” James said with a big smile after he hit his first career playoff buzzer-beater, giving the Cavs a 96-95 win over the Magic in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals, evening up the series.

“The other 23 is now on the good side. That other 23 is gone, so we don’t have to worry about that no more.”

James caught an inbound pass from Mo Williams with a second left and buried a 25-foot, 3-pointer as the horn sounded to win the game.

“I just took my time,” James said. “For me, a second is a long time.

For others, it’s very short. ... I was able to square up and just lock in.”

Looking for the lob

So how did the play develop?

Well, first off, Cavs Head Coach Mike Brown said, “That’s not what we drew up.”

The Cavs wanted to lob the ball to the rim for James to catch for a layup or dunk. That was Option A, an end-of-game play used Feb. 10 at Indiana. But if that wasn’t there, Williams still knew where the ball would end up.

“Option B was LeBron. Option C was LeBron. Option D was ‘Big Game James,’” Williams said. “And that was Option D that you saw.”

When the teams huddled during the timeout before the shot, Orlando Head Coach Stan Van Gundy’s mind quickly flashed back to Cavs game tape he’d seen from Feb. 10.

“They were looking for the back-door lob to LeBron, same play they ran (at Indiana just before the All-Star break),” Van Gundy said. “... I’ve seen that play. I’ve seen it in one of the craziest games I’ve ever seen in that game with Indiana, back-to-back fouls on guys going for the lob.”

That night, questionable foul calls both ways resulted in James tying the game on two free throws with four-tenths of a second left before Indiana’s Danny Granger won it with a free throw with a tenth of a second left.

Sold on the fact the Cavs were running that again, Van Gundy sent out a defense designed to stop it.

“You know, Stan was in our huddle,” Brown joked. “That’s exactly right. We were going for the lob.”

LeBron improvises

Magic defender Hedo Turkoglu instantly reacted when James made what looked to be the start of a cut to the rim from the right side of the paint.

“I just jumped in front of him, and he stepped back,” Turkoglu said.

By Turkoglu committing himself to stop the lob, James saw he could retreat to the top of the key and get the separation needed to shoot a jumper.

James told Williams before the play “whatever it takes from me, I’m going to come get the ball.”

Van Gundy blames himself for not defending the play differently. He didn’t say what changes he might have made. “It may come up again, so we are not getting into that.”

He probably wished he left better help for Turkoglu at the top of the key to prevent James from getting a relatively clean look at the hoop.

What Van Gundy didn’t second guess was the decision to put the 6-foot-10 Turkoglu on the 6-8 James.

“You really think another guy would have blocked that?”

James got incredible lift on the shot. He was well above Turkoglu and a hard-charging Rashard Lewis, who’s also 6-10, when he released with six-tenths of a second left.

“And, man, it was crazy watching the ball when he threw it up,” Magic center Dwight Howard said. “It was like watching a movie. The ball was just spinning. It was like watching a real movie.”

The Cavs, of course, weren’t surprised.

“I kind of expected it, because that’s what he does,” Cavs guard-forward Sasha Pavlovic said. “He makes all kinds of shots in practices.”

The little kid in James has never gone away. He’s still hoisting up shots in practice, before practice, after practice ‹ always imagining it as a game-winner from whatever distance or angle he shoots it.

“I’m catching, shooting things that may not happen in a game,” James said, “but, you know, it happened tonight.”

Canton Repository

What they said

“It’s the biggest shot I’ve made in my career.” -- Cavs forward LeBron James

“You couldn’t hear anything but just the roar of those 20,000 plus fans, and they deserve it.” -- James

“You think you have the game and you turn around, and he makes a crazy shot, unbelievable shot.” -- Magic forward Hedo Turkoglu, who defended James on the play

“It’s a tough shot. I’m shocked that anybody would make that shot. ... Turk played great defense. There was nothing he could do about it. ... He’s the MVP of the league, and that’s what he does best.” -- Magic center Dwight Howard

“I don’t know what to say, but he was born to do that. That’s amazing. I don’t know what to say. It’s unbelievable.” -- Cavs guard-forward Sasha Pavlovic

“I’ve said it all along that we are playing with history in the making. He’s going to be the best basketball player ever to touch the ball.” -- Cavs guard-forward Wally Szczerbiak