Making fun of LeBron James is a popular hobby for some, but it doesn’t make a difference. LeBron James didn’t let anything that happened in the first game have any effect on him going into a must win game for the Miami Heat, as he proved once more why he is widely considered to be the best player on the planet.
His stat line, of scoring 35 points, grabbing 10 rebounds while shooting 63.6% from the field is something you usually see great centers do. The last player to pull it off was Shaquille O’Neal during the Lakers’ three-peat in the beginning of the previous decade. But James isn’t a center, or a small forward for that matter. When he is at his best, he transcends the definitions that limit him to being just one thing.
On defense he guards big men and point guards, while spending some time on Kawhi Leonard, who at the moment looks like someone that is a bit overwhelmed with the level of play. He is putting in quite an effort on defense (which isn’t really helping), which costs him a lot offensively. He hits the open 3-pointers he rarely sees, but doesn’t contribute in any other way. He hasn’t been able to drive to the basket against James, and spent most of game 2 on the bench due to foul trouble before actually fouling out.
The Miami Heat decided to bother Tony Parker all game long with bigger players marking him. LeBron James does a better job than any on the French point guard, as the Spurs constantly try to switch. Early on in the game, when James was still testing the waters, Parker found a rhythm and his way to the basket. Later on? The second half wasn’t a good one for him and after getting nailed in the ribs with an elbow from Mario Chalmers, he almost seemed to be out of the game, although he did hit one 3-pointer that gave the Spurs their last lead before fumbling in the end.
It was interesting watching James take over the game. He finished the first quarter with 2 points, not getting the foul calls he wanted as he drove to the basket four times, once putting in a thunderous dunk to let everyone know he has showed up. He stayed closed to the rim and kept posting up on Boris Diaw and Leonard in the second quarter, starting to feel comfortable, scoring 11 points. He was in the game, as the Heat took control.
The third quarter was about something else. It wasn’t just changing his shots and starting to hit jumpers, contested or not. It was about setting a pace and completely controlling the game. Moving it away from the runs the Spurs wanted to force on the Heat, and turn it into a half court possession game. James doesn’t always make the best decisions as the Heat can fall into this mundane routine of spreading the floor and not moving, but for the most part isolating James and letting him pick his sports worked perfectly.
Because once James cemented his outside shooting as well, he had the ability to move and completely split the Spurs defense, no longer being disciplined, patient and methodical. As the game kept slipping away from them, James found lanes for big passes like the one to Chris Bosh that hit a huge 3-pointer. Bosh later took the ball to the floor, getting by Tim Duncan and setting Dwyane Wade with a big assist to win the game.
Jokes, memes, it doesn’t matter. Maybe it actually hurts him and motivates him in a way. But any attempt to make fun or get into James’ head in these playoffs has turned into a failure. He isn’t Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant. He is different, maybe even better. But he is in a stage of his career when his basketball IQ and physical abilities combine to create masterpiece performances, and the scary part is that it doesn’t seem to be that much of an effort for him.