As I have made it more than clear all season, I root for OKC and I am rooting for them in the Finals, but that is not because I hate LeBron, D-Wade, or anyone on the Heat team. In fact, I respect and admire the talent of both of these two superstars, but as one of the most humble, reliable, pure scorers this game has seen, I just roll with KD over anybody.
But anyway, on to what this post is really about, and that is the greatness which is LeBron James. And yes, I said greatness, so before anyone tries to jump on the thoughts that precede or succeed this statement, I respect and recognize the superstar we are all “witnessing.”
Now, with that said, as much as I hated to see OKC lose Game 2, especially after, yet another fantastic fourth quarter by KD, there was something very satisfying for me about last night’s game. That was, the style of which LeBron James played, and scored, for 48 minutes (okay, 42, for you sticklers.)
LeBron scored 32 points in his 42 minutes of play. While certainly not his highest point total, (though substantial nonetheless), it was the manner in which he scored these points, that was so rewarding…at least to me.
For an entire game, we got to see the true beauty of LeBron James; a ridiculously talented, skilled, finesse, 6’8″, 250 pound, pure-muscle, man-beast, that cannot be stopped going to the hole, by any player, or players, on any basketball court, in this world. We as spectators all know, every team knows, every coach knows, every player knows, and apparently after tonight, LeBron knows that when LeBron goes to the hole with the basketball, he can. not. be. stopped. Period. It’s that simple. The result will be a basket or a foul, nine times (or more) out of ten.
The great part about last night was LeBron realized that. Okay, I’m sure he realized it long before last night, but last night he refused to submit himself. For four quarters, putting on a beautiful display of hook shots, floaters, dunks and good ol’ fashioned lay-ups, LeBron purely dominated the paint. There was no giving in to fatigue, no settling for jumpers, no nonchalant pull-ups, no passing of the torch; LeBron hammered the Thunder inside for 42 minutes.
And the results paid dividend, as his team achieved victory, and he was commended. No hate, no one could say a word.
(Quite similar to how he silenced haters in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Celtics, in which he had one of the most brilliant playoff performances of all-time.)
Looking at LeBron’s shot chart, on 10-of-22 shooting, just six of those shots came outside of the paint, and five of those six were misses. (Of which the final miss, accompanied with a foul call on KD in the closing seconds, could have changed this entire story.) Of his 32 points, 18 of them came in the paint and 12 more came on free throws, shooting 12-12 from the line. This is what LeBron needs to do every single night for the rest of the playoffs. He does do it every night, at times, but with statistics like these, a player of LeBron’s caliber should NEVER settle for jumpers, simply because, he does not have to.
(*sidenote: The Heat went 19-4 in games that LeBron shot 12 or more free throws this season)
If there is one criticism I have of LeBron James, it would be that he doesn’t own his own greatness, especially in critical games, and that’s much of why he draws so much criticism. The greats own the moments. Make or miss, that is their moment, and let us not forget, all of the greats missed. But even after a miss, they were there to take the shot again the next time with the same confidence they had the last time, and that is where the glorious victories came from. Between Game 6 against the Celtics, and Game 2 against the Thunder, we may be seeing those tides changing for LeBron.
It’s not only time for LeBron to own those moments, but own them in his own unique way. If that means putting a game out of reach before the closing minutes, do so. If that means winning a game at the buzzer, there is no place LeBron James is more confident, than powering his way to the basket. Just because Kobe and Jordan took jump shots doesn’t mean that’s how LeBron has to win ball games. In fact, I can’t even count the amount of times I’ve screamed, “GO TO THE HOLE,” at LeBron with a game on the line, the ball in his hands and seconds left on the clock, only to see him settle for a jumper on guys like Rondo. I also believe that had he gone to the hole on many of those, a few more of those shots would have been game winners.
This is your luxury LeBron, own it, use it, and be disciplined enough to play like this every single night. Just look at how it worked for you in Game 2.