There is a point at which greatness stops being such a shock to the senses that they compensate and adjust accordingly, a point where the routinely spectacular becomes little more than mundane. It happens to all of us and is a major factor in taking anything for granted. But during last night’s Magic and Cavaliers game, LeBron shook me out of my daze.
This isn’t to say that I didn’t appreciate LeBron James, because I did and I do, but I was simply stunned at some of his abilities last night. Aside from dropping 32 points last night, he also dished out 13 assists and grabbed 8 rebounds. LeBron is a natural stat-sheet filler, as he once quipped he probably has the most near triple-doubles in league history, narrowly missing the mark by one rebound or assist.
But the move that stood out the most last night was when LeBron used a fake penetration dribble, with Mickael Pietrus guarding him (his Eastern Conference Finals nemesis), did a fluid and impossibly quick 360 turn around and immediately went into a jump shot, which of course found the bottom of the net.
As I sat and watched this display, this after multiple step back shots that essentially sealed the Magic’s fate, I thought to myself that there can’t be any better. Sure, on any night Wade or Kobe or maybe even Durant can have unstoppable offensive assaults that make opponents whimper in the night, but none can do it better than LeBron did in the fourth quarter. Admittedly, he wasn’t extraordinary through the first part of the game, but when it counted he delivered.
How can you stop him if he is playing like this? You have to hope his teammates can’t hit their shots. If you don’t double LeBron and get the ball out of his hands when he is playing like this he is going to obliterate your team. You can’t play the perimeter, because he is the best player in the league’s history at driving to the bucket. So you take your chances and hope he doesn’t catch fire as he started to last night (he is only slightly above 36% from the 3-point line this year).
And perhaps I used a little too much hyperbole in the opening, as I have had this exact feeling numerous times over the course of this season while watching LeBron. The game against New York that was set in Cleveland also inspired similar amorous feelings towards the King. When LeBron is on, he isn’t hesitant to hoist up, quite frankly, stupid shots. Shots a healthy 5 feet beyond the 3-point arc, his sneaker gracing the gigantic “C” at the Q upon take-off.
And I haven’t even mentioned how he makes the rest of his team better, or actually makes their job easier. I will just say this, not many teams can lose their starting point guard for nearly a month now and their backup point guard for the past 9 games and still manage to go on a 13 game winning streak. Yes, a lot of credit goes to Shaq, who has had to help shoulder the scoring load left by Mo and Delonte. However, he doesn’t run the offense. LeBron has been altered into a point forward over the past few weeks, with the help of Daniel Gibson.
Just examine JJ Hickson. He has benefited more than anyone not named Anthony Parker from LeBron’s penetration into the defense. His entire job, which he executed wonderfully last night, is to wait patiently and then cut to the basket and hope LeBron delivers the ball perfectly so that he can jam it home with authority. I know JJ is an incredible athlete, and he had a huge block on Dwight Howard last night, but he shouldn’t be posting 20 points in 28 minutes of play should he? That isn’t an every night occurrence, otherwise the Cavs wouldn’t be in the market for Troy Murphy or Antawn Jamison.
The point remains though. LeBron is doing his best Peyton Manning impression (I don’t mean losing) and making average to good players into very good and sometimes great players. Anthony Parker is a solid player who has had at least minor success well before LeBron, but now his job is so much easier. If he wanted to, he could sit in one spot on the floor (usually beyond the arc) and launch as many 3-point shots as he wanted with little interference from the defense.
And lets take a moment to give a lot of credit to Mike Brown. He is often the scapegoat for the media when the Cavaliers start to crumble offensively (but realistically who else do you give the ball to when you need baskets?) and he is largely seen as LeBron’s puppet. However, he has changed the defensive culture in Cleveland and a lot of other coaches have tremendous players and they don’t have the best record in the league and are 4-0 against the Lakers and Magic this year (looking at you Erik Spoelstra).
Since the Paints Dudes have decided to hold off on 2010 free agency talks for the sake of sanity, I will not broach the subject here. However, I will say that I hope LeBron stays on my local television market for many years to come because what I get from him more than any other player is a sense of OMG.