In a must win game for the Miami Heat, LeBron James underlined his MVP status emphatically, with an absolutely monstrous performance. He finished with 40 points, 18 rebounds and 9 assists, as well as 2 blocks and 2 steals. Not too shabby.
More importantly than just his stat-line, James was the Heat’s emotional lynchpin from start to finish. He was aggressive from the first quarter onwards—driving to the basket and getting to the free-throw line with consistency. It was clear from the opening tip that James wasn’t going to be shackled by the likes of Danny Granger and David West. He refused to settle for low-percentage mid-range jumpers, and was a major factor in getting the Pacers big-men in foul trouble early.
It’s difficult to overstate the immense impact James had on a monumental Game 4. Entering the game, all the discussion had been about how poorly the Heat had played without Chris Bosh, and whether they were heading for a shocking playoff exit.
James has silenced the doubters. For now.
He scored in bunches and dominated the glass, while at the same time facilitated for his teammates, playing the point guard position for much of the game. There was a shade (just a shade), in James’ Game 4 performance, of Magic Johnson’s epic Game 6 in the 1980 Finals.
Dwayne Wade, who eventually finished the game with 30 points—hitting 10 shots in a row at one stage, owed a big part of his second half revival to James. While Wade was struggling early on, hitting only 1 of his first 8 shots, James did his best to keep his team in the game.
The Pacers had threatened to run away with the game early, breaking out to a furious 9-0 lead, with the Indiana crowd going wild, but James stayed aggressive and made big shots while his teammates struggled.
By the end of the second quarter, Wade began to hit his stride, owing largely to the league’s reigning MVP. James got Wade going with some beautiful inside passes, finding Wade as he cut to the basket.
Just as crucially for the Heat, James got the much maligned, and criminally underused Udonis Haslem, firing in the third and fourth quarters. James drew defenders towards him with his dribble penetration, before kicking the ball out to Haslem who knocked down some nice open jump shots.
James and Wade were unstoppable in the second half, hitting 46 of their team’s 48 points at one stage. It was a not-so-subtle reminder, after a week of intense media scrutiny, that the Miami Heat possesses two players that can single-handedly win playoff games.
Indiana simply had no answer to Miami’s two-man show.
Of course, James’ detractors will still question why the assertive, aggressive demeanor he exhibited today, isn’t on display in every game he plays. It’s a valid question, and there’s no denying that it’s frustrating to witness a player, who is essentially unplayable, fade in and out of games at times during the season.
James has been rightly criticized when he’s gone AWOL in 4th quarters and deferred to inferior teammates. At the same time, however, the general public and sports media need to learn to appreciate the league’s greatest player when he has an all-world performance like the one we all just witnessed.
No one else in the league can put up the sort of numbers James did in Game 4. Yes, it’s frustrating that he can’t hit such transcendent heights in every game, but you won’t see anyone else in the NBA coming close to that level of dominance—that sort of impact on a game. He’s sadly a victim of our own absurdly high expectation levels.
Charles Barkley often says that the basketball world will regret taking LeBron James for granted when he finally hangs up his sneakers. He’s right.
Granted, we value winners in sports—James hasn’t yet won anything yet. And yes, we admire players with cold-blooded killer-instinct, and James has only showed glimpses of channeling his inner Michael Jordan. But sometimes it’s worthwhile watching a game in a vacuum. Forget last years NBA finals, all those messy 4th quarters from the regular season, and the noise from pseudo-sports psychologists claiming to know all about James’ inner demons.
On days like today, just sit back and admire the greatest basketball player on planet Earth, and all the freakishly amazing things he can do on the hard-court. We won’t see another LeBron James for a long time. Don’t take him for granted.