<
>

LeBron ends Game 2 in dramatic fashion

CLEVELAND -- What in the world are we witnessing (no pun intended)? Honestly, isn't this starting to get just a little bit creepy?

A dying franchise in the most godforsaken sports town there is drafts a kid from nearby Akron. He grows into the greatest player alive, turns the team into a contender, builds an impeccable public image, develops something of a love affair with the fans, boosts the city's dwindling economy, and now this?

A 25-foot game-winning, buzzer-beating 3-pointer that defies all reason? One that no more than two dozen people on Earth could have thought he'd hit? One that saved the Cavaliers' dream season -- as well as Cleveland's collective sports psyche -- from plunging into the abyss?

It's really beginning to seem like "the Chosen One" is more than just a cool nickname.

After Game 2's miracle shot gave the Cavaliers an astonishing 96-95 victory over the Orlando Magic and evened the series at 1-1, it's starting to feel as if LeBron James really was sent from above as a gift to the moribund city of Cleveland.

Sound like an overstatement?

Let me set the scene: 20,562 fans -- and hundreds of thousands of locals watching on television -- were all but heartbroken. Long-suffering victims of "The Shot," "The Drive," "The Fumble" and "The Choke," they had finally gotten over their fear of commitment, allowing themselves to believe that redemption could be theirs. That confetti and parades and clubhouses wet with champagne weren't just things for other cities to enjoy.

And suddenly, the supposedly inferior Magic -- with those dribble drives and those pick-and-rolls and those god-awful 3-pointers -- had carjacked the seven-month joyride the fans thought would surely end with the city's first championship since 1964.

So now the most imposing crowd in pro basketball was silent, hushed by a Hedo Turkoglu jump shot that seemed to kill the Cavaliers not just for a night but for a season. Some fans began marching toward the exits; others were too sick to move.

A couple named Lou and April keep telling local radio personality Kenny Roda, seated nearby, "We're gonna lose, we're gonna lose."

A season-ticket holder of more than a dozen years, Adam Morris, tried to keep the faith, but the words "Here we go again" kept running wind sprints through his mind.

And who could blame them?

There was one second left on the clock, the Cavs were down by two points and their superhero, James, had been a mere mortal with flaws down the stretch, missing 4 of 6 shots and committing three turnovers in the fourth quarter.

Heck, even if James had been hot, what can a guy do in a second?

"For me, a second is a long time," James said with a laugh, long after he'd worked his magic. "For others, it is very short."

Cavs coach Mike Brown drew up one of the most logical plays time would allow for: a lob to LeBron at the rim. But the Magic, having seen the Cavs run the play earlier this season in Indiana, were prepared. They put 6-foot-10 Rashard Lewis on 6-1 inbounder Mo Williams, and Turkoglu cut off James' path to the hoop.

Uh-oh.

The play broken, James pulled something out of his, um, thinking cap, and cut toward the top of the key, where Williams delivered the ball two feet beyond the arc. Squaring himself in the air, James launched the ball over Turkoglu's outstretched arm.

Everyone held their breath. Except Williams, who sought divine intervention.

"It felt like it took so long to get to the rim," Williams said. "The whole time, I said a prayer -- like a 10-minute prayer."

When the ball did reach the rim, it fell through the net as the horn sounded. Then chaos ensued, as fear, frustration and joy all collided at once. April, the fan who kept predicting doom, was crying. Williams fell to his knees. James was mobbed by his teammates.

"Wow," James said of the pandemonium that followed his shot. "The loudest it has ever been in this building … tonight surpassed that by 10 times. It was unbelievable. You couldn't hear anything but just a roar of those 20,000-plus fans. And they deserve it."

It was 20 years ago when Michael Jordan buried the Cavaliers' postseason hopes with his famous foul-line jumper over Craig Ehlo, a first-round-series-ending heartbreak of a play dubbed "The Shot" in Cleveland.

Perhaps that phrase got a new meaning Friday.

"Well, that guy is not in the league anymore," said James, who wears Jordan's No. 23 and finished with a game-high 35 points. "The other 23 is on the good side now. The other 23 is gone, so we don't have to worry about that no more."

James wouldn't compare this shot to his other signature playoff moment: his 48-point outburst in Game 5 of the 2007 Eastern Conference finals against Detroit, when he scored the Cavs' last 25 points. But he understands its historical significance.

"That's a shot you will see for a long time," he said. "You watch classic games and you see Jordan hit game-winners and you go all the way back -- Jerry West hitting game-winners and Magic Johnson going across the lane and hitting the jump hook against Boston. Hopefully, I 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."

It took Williams nearly half an hour to comprehend what he'd been a part of. An ice bag strapped over his left shoulder, he stood in the locker room afterward, staring at James in awe. "I don't know what to do," Williams said, his eyes glazed. "What just happened?"

"Say thanks to the basketball gods," James told him while eating a cup of fruit, his ankles and knees iced.
Williams smiled knowingly. "The basketball gods love us."

With "the Chosen One" in Cleveland, perhaps they finally do.

Chris Broussard is a senior writer at ESPN The Magazine.