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Kragthorpe: LeBron passes up chance to beat Jazz

Published March 5, 2012 10:30 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The Jazz won this game because Al Jefferson, shockingly, passed the ball.

Miami lost this game because LeBron James, inexplicably, passed the ball.

That convergence in the final, frantic seconds Friday night resulted in the signature victory of this Jazz season and coach Tyrone Corbin's career, while raising more questions about the finishing ability of the world's best basketball player.

The Jazz's 99-98 win at EnergySolutions Arena came via the combination of guard Devin Harris' three-point play in the last five seconds after Jefferson passed to him and Udonis Haslem's miss after James passed to him.

Label those passes brilliant (Jefferson) and a blunder (James) — with such obvious judgments assisted by what their teammates did with the ball.

Harris delivered in traffic against James with a high floater in the lane while being fouled by Dwyane Wade, making Jefferson look good. Haslem failed on his 18-footer, making James look bad.

That's how this stuff works.

Trailing by two points, the Jazz went to Jefferson on the left block. Even before James came all the way to double-team him, Jefferson passed to Harris near the free-throw line. Harris "gave me a funny look," said Jefferson, and why not? Jefferson is known for forcing shots, not distributing the ball.

"He wants to be Magic Johnson," Harris said, laughing.

LeBron wants to be, who, exactly?

Everybody from Corbin to Heat coach Erik Spoelstra to Jefferson to James himself used the same exact phrase, as if a script was being passed around each locker room: "The right basketball play."

At the wrong time, the rest of the world would clarify.

James' pass to a forward who averages 6.4 points and shoots 41 percent from the field concluded a fourth quarter that ranks with the all-time best performances at ESA. His 17 points all came via field goals, as he went 8 for 9, and the only miss was a Josh Howard block. His last basket was an impossible, double-clutching number from the left wing — "a video-game shot," Jefferson said — that gave the Heat a 97-94 lead with 26.1 seconds remaining.

So, of course, as the Heat in-bounded with 4.5 seconds remaining after Harris' three-point play — the ball would go to James with Howard guarding him. "I was a little concerned," Corbin said, "when he got the ball in his hands."

And then, for whatever reason, it was out of his hands.

"I guess he felt there was too much pressure on him," Howard said in a postgame television interview, in words that could be interpreted a couple of different ways.

In the locker room, asked if he was surprised about the pass, Howard agreed "for the most part."

That last sequence radically changed how everybody walking out of the arena viewed James and the Jazz.

This was a big breakthrough for the home team, punctuated by public address announcer Dan Roberts' declaration: "We beat Miami!"

The reality is the Jazz would never have a better chance to beat the Heat than Friday, when forward Chris Bosh was missing for personal reasons and Miami had played the previous night at Portland. Yet even after they led by 18 points with four minutes left in the third quarter, they needed everything they could summon to win this game — with help from the Heat.

Before the game, Corbin said, "They're relentless. … If they see any weakness, they're going to try to rip your guts out."

The Jazz's insides remained intact, in a display of heart that James could not match.

kkragthorpe@sltrib.com

Twitter: @tribkurt