LeBron James: Two Minute Man
Tiger Woods often says that his most gratifying victories come on his worst days. Those are the days when his putting is off and his drives off the tee are errant, but somehow he is able to scramble and stay near the top of the leaderboard for the first three days. On the last day of the tournament, he is able to summon one or two vintage Tiger moments and win. In those instances, it is Tiger’s perseverance more than his supreme talent that allow him to succeed.
Baseball pitchers often talk of nights when they don’t have their best “stuff.” Their fastball may be only hitting 94 mph, instead of the usual 98-99 mph. The curve ball is hanging up just high enough for the hitters to get a good swing at it. In those instances, the pitcher has to out think the hitter for the majority of the game and then hope that in the late innings, they can dig deep and find that 98 mph fastball to carry their team to victory.
In leading Cleveland’s 88-77 victory over the Boston Celtics last night, LeBron James was able to overcome yet another rough shooting night to lead his team to victory in the fourth quarter. And it all occurred over a two-minute span.
Up until the 3:49 mark of the fourth quarter, James was having his fourth consecutive poor shooting night. His passing game was impeccable as usual, as evidenced by his 11 assists at the time, and he was also filling up the stat sheet on the defensive end blocking two shots and grabbing three steals. Yet from the field he had shot a paltry 5-for-17, and it was the play of his teammates that kept the Cavs in the game.
But for the final two minutes, we were witnesses to the kind of plays that the great ones always seem to make.
At the 3:49 mark of the fourth quarter, James shot and missed a long three-pointer and the television cameras zoomed in close enough to see him having the same type of pep talk with himself that Karl Malone used to have on the foul line. Whatever James said to himself must have worked, because the next time down the floor is when the magic began to happen. The Cavaliers were up 76-73 at that point with 3:16 left in the game and James squared up and drained a three-pointer that hit nothing but net. The crowd went wild, the Cavaliers bench jumped to their feet, and even James himself threw a decisive fist in the air, as if to say “finally.” In an effort to quell the momentum, Doc Rivers called timeout when it was 79-73 Cleveland.
Following a Paul Pierce jumper, James and the Cavs came back down the floor looking to respond. This time, James didn’t shoot the three-pointer, but he found an open Daniel Gibson who took the pass and as he’s done so many times since last year’s playoffs, he swished it through. Assist number 12 for James gave the Cavaliers an 82-75 lead. But it was that next trip down the floor for James that would truly cement the game.
For three games,46 minutes and 55 seconds of the fourth, Boston had done an excellent job of frustrating James whenever he would drive down the lane. Most of the time, it would be Kevin Garnett who would force him to alter his drive. On his last and final drive to the basket, he was able to elude Paul Pierce on the perimeter, take an inside-out dribble past James Posey and then take one giant step before he elevated up above the rim. Garnett elevated with him, but James extended even higher, rose above Garnett and threw down an absolutely thunderous dunk to put his team up by nine points. As they had when he hit the three-pointer two minutes earlier, the crowd went ecstatic, and James’ body language was much more demonstrative.
Again, Doc Rivers called timeout, but it wasn’t enough to stop Cleveland’s momentum as it was to shake his team out of the shock James’ dunk had put them into. The score was 84-75, and Boston never threatened again.
When you look at his numbers in the box score, it will clearly show James didn’t have his best stuff. He “only” had six rebounds and he shot 7-for-20 from the field. But he hung around, dished the ball (13 assists to end the game) and he mentally stayed in the game until the moment came.
It’s safe to say, the Celtics, basketball fans in general and maybe even a rehabilitating Tiger Woods got to be witnesses on this night.