Coming Of Age
King James has arrived.
by Quinn Peterson / @QwinFNP
I love music, so I often tend to think in hip-hop lyrics. In the words of Malice of the Clipse: “last night what I seen made my life change”.
Better yet, what I’ve seen in the last four weeks. People, King James has officially arrived. The word “official” is critical because before this year’s post-season, any argument for him as the best in the league was arguable; now, it’s not.
There was no question about him being the most physically gifted player ever to grace the earth. Or the most versatile and capable player in the league. What was lacking, however, was the jumper, the wins that actually count, and the clutch factor. The assassin, the kill-factor. The intangibles.
Throughout the season, the latter parts continued to remain in question. On numerous, well-documented occasions, he came up short in late-game situations (hence, the loud call by many — myself included — for DWade to be the “closer”). It seemed like we were in for the same narrative.
But things changed in Game 4 of the Miami-Boston series. And we were all witnesses. It started with his three from the corner with two-minutes left in regulation that tied the game at 84. Then, on Miami’s ensuing possession, he came through with a go-ahead lay-in.
Game 2 vs. Chicago, he hits a three to put the Heat up for good and supplies their last nine. Game 4 it was his D on DRose for the last two possessions of regulation. Game 5 was epitome, with the pull-up three to tie, then the elbow pull-up to put Miami ahead.
Crowd, momentum, and hope-killing shots. We finally witnessed him ruthlessly end teams like Snoop and Chris Partlow end lives.
The arguments against him (and, essentially, for Kobe) had nothing to do with numbers. And this is crucial. In fact, his 25.9 point playoff average is the second-lowest of his career. His 5.4 assists are the least he’s ever dished out. Other than free throws, his shooting percentages aren’t career-bests either.
But it’s the timing of the plays. It’s one thing to go for 30 but not finish a team off; it’s entirely another to struggle for the whole game, but come up huge in the last six minutes.
See, I had been holding out for these moments before definitively crowning him. This is what Kobe advocates have hung their hat on. While he may not have been able to physically dominate, and may have struggled throughout the game, in the final minutes, he was a sniper.
Now, for the first time (save Game 5 of the 2007 Conference Finals against Detroit), King James has convincingly shown that he’s capable of doing the same.
“When you have confidence in your ability to go out there and perform, that helps,”said James after defeating the Bulls in Game 5. “Being put in those positions helps. And like I said before, when you have confidence from your teammates, to make and take those shots — or even when you miss, they still look at you like, ‘we want you to take those shots again.’
“For myself, just stepping up and trying to do whatever it takes to win. If that’s making a big shot late in the game, or if that’s trying to get a defensive stop, I try to take the challenge.”
And that’s the other half of his progression. Defensively is, perhaps, where he was actually the most impressive. Sure, his rundown blocks made SportCenter’s Top 10s. But the stopping the fastest, most explosive player in the game are far more telling.
LeBron is a monster on defense. In the Playoffs, he leads all players in total steals (25) and is second in total blocks (22).
Obviously, there’s still a series to be played. It’s the most important one. But barring some complete collapse, there’s no denying at this point. He’s silenced critics not by putting up gaudy numbers, but by ripping hearts out. And we were all witnesses. The King has come of age.