One night after the Oklahoma City Thunder showed the world what a superteam looks like, LeBron James of the Miami Heat used Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals as a personal platform to show what a superstar looks like.
Forty-five points, despite playing the fourth quarter on cruise control. Fifteen rebounds, despite handling perimeter duties on defense. Five assists, despite the other four starters combining to shoot 14-36. And a 19-point win, despite playing on the road, in front of a rabid, Eat-Your-Face type crowd.
“He is arguably the most skilled player in this League,” Coach Erik Spoelstra said of James after the game. “He has a lot to his repertoire, and he was able to showcase a lot of that tonight.”
No offense to Coach Spo—one of the better young sideline stompers in the League—but nope. Absolutely 100 percent wrong. Patently false. There is nothing “arguable” about it; LeBron James is, as young folks say, the tits. Or, like Chris Bosh would say after the game, LeBron is “the best I’ve seen. One of the best this League has ever seen.”
We live in a weird world, a world of poles. Of great, of terrible, and of nothing in between. A world of hyperbole. Of “That was the greatest thing ever”, of “That was garbage,” and of nothing in between.
For Thursday night, if only Thursday night, LeBron’s play—normally critiqued beyond comprehension—deserves to live in the positive pole of that hyperbolic world.
His shot chart from the game looks like a halo—a perfect, circular and angelic 19-26 that crisscrosses the court. In the first half of the game alone, James had a 23-minute stretch where he shot an Ibaka-esque 12-12. He hit floaters off the wrong foot. He hit jumpers from deep, odd angles. He hit turnarounds with defenders draped on him. He hit dunks. He hit shots that Larry and Mike wouldn’t have attempted in a McDonald’s-sponsored game of H.O.R.S.E. And, just to remind the world that he’s human, he sprinkled in four missed free throws in the 98-79 victory.
Freebies aside—how scary would it be if he could Karl Malone his free-throw percentage in the coming years?—LeBron James’ performance in Game 6 was akin to a Varsity player taking on the JV. It was like a Monstar taking on a skills-sapped human on a distant planet. It was like Michael Jordan taking on, well, anybody. It was like LeBron James in the fourth quarter of Game 5 against Detroit in 2007, except it was for all four quarters.
“He was locked in from the beginning of the game like I’ve never seen him before,” teammate Dwyane Wade said. “He really put on an MVP performance.”
Or, as Paul Pierce said of the three-time MVP, “Sometimes superstars get hot…”
…And sometimes stars get cold. Obviously Paul Pierce didn’t say that second part, but he didn’t have to—after all, he illustrated it during the game. Normally a “big game player,” as Coach Doc Rivers described him, Pierce was slow of foot and short of shot throughout the game. He finished the contest 4-18—blame it on age, injury or just a plain, old off night—but his teammates still have unwavering confidence in him going forward, good will that he’s undoubtedly earned over the course of a prolific career.
“He’s not gonna leave no bullets in the chamber,” Keyon Dooling, the voice of the Celtics bench, said in the locker room well after the final buzzer sounded. Fire away in Game 7, Paul Pierce will, but hopefully for Boston they’re not blanks.
Blanks also just about qualifies LeBron’s answers to postgame questions at the podium. The phrase “I don’t know” was James’ go-to answer at the dais on a night where he had the right to speak down to a lot of his detractors. Maybe he didn’t want to tip his (hot) hand, or tell where his fuel came from, or admit to drinking from the bottle specially labeled for MJ. Maybe…whatever. LeBron might not have addressed the unasked question, but Doc Rivers did, unsolicited.
“I hope now you guys will stop talking about LeBron and that he doesn’t play in big games,” said Rivers. “He was pretty good tonight, [so] now that’s to bed.”
A small sign posted near the entrance to the Celtics locker room reads INDIVIDUALS WIN GAMES. TEAMS WIN CHAMPIONSHIPS.
Cliché? Yes. Trite? Yes. Motivational ploy? Yes. True? Yes, for the most part. But not for the Heat, at least not in Game 6.
“It was phenomenal,” a normally verbose Shane Battier managed to say of James’ performance.
“He had a game,” said the often-eloquent Ray Allen. “You have to tip your hat to him.”
“[He] was in the groove,” Kevin Garnett said, after playing in what could potentially become known as his last home game as a Boston Celtic was overshadowed by an all-time performance, “and he never looked back.”
Yeah, in this case words describe LeBron’s Game 6 no better than they provide insight into what sunset at Malibu looks like. In both instances, seeing is the only believing.
“I just went to my habits, what I built ever since I started playing this game,” James said.
It is the same game he’s always played—94×50 court, two baskets, one ball—but, remember, it’s a different world. Coach Spoelstra said that’s not an issue, said Lebron knows how to “compartmentalize” and quiet the media and fan noise. Coach Spo said, basically, LeBron knows how to not live in the current world of poles.
Well, until Game 7 tips off on Saturday night, it might actually be a world he wants to live in.
A world where a superstar is finally given his due.