Game 6 wasn’t about the poor shooting Celtics or a desperate Heat team fighting off elimination. It was about the brilliance of LeBron James. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
Just two years ago, LeBron arrived in Boston for a Game 6 with his Cleveland Cavaliers down 3-2 in the 2010 conference finals. LeBron was awful. Even worse, it was clear he didn’t care. He wanted nothing to do with his teammates, the Cavaliers, or the pressure of that moment.
This time around, James was focused, hungry, and most importantly, poised. Even as he was stringing together consecutive fall-away jumpers or throwing back offensive rebounds with authority, James’ face never changed. From the opening tip ‘til the 46th minute when he finally left the game for the first time, LeBron was all business.
Honestly, it was great to see. Too often LeBron shifts into goofy, hot-dogging mode. That’s all well and good during the regular season and maybe even the early rounds of the playoffs, but to win in early June, the stone face must come out. Kevin Durant perfected his in the Western Conference Finals against the San Antonio Spurs. Durant never panicked. Never shied away from the moment and made sure his teammates did the same. LeBron duplicated Durant’s play last night and even exceeded it. It was the best performance of the playoffs thus far. The Celtics had no answer.
Of course, this isn’t the first time we’ve seen this type of effort from LeBron James. Early in his career, LeBron led us to believe such mammoth games would be a regular event in the NBA Playoffs. LeBron dominated the Pistons to the tune of 48 points in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals in 2007. In 2009, LeBron dropped 49 on 20/30 shooting against the Magic in Game 1 of the conference finals. Thursday’s 45 points on 19/26 shooting and 15 rebounds was another classic. Though, the points didn’t mean as much as the attitude.
On Wednesday night during TNT’s pregame coverage of Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals, Charles Barkley looked directly into the camera and begged, no, pleaded LeBron James to realize his destiny as the best player in the world and hoist his team onto his back. LeBron did just that. 24 hours ago the Thunder looked like a lock for their first NBA title in Oklahoma City. If LeBron’s Game 6 was more than another great night, if it was LeBron finally turning a corner in what has been to this point an underachieving career, the Thunder is in for a fight. A fight between the two best players in the world. A fight that will not only determine the 2012 NBA champion, but the greatest player in the world, too. Durant made his case on Wednesday night and appeared to hold the title before LeBron took it back Thursday. If we’re lucky, the two will do battle on the same court come Tuesday night.
(Also, it bothers me that everyone pities LeBron for all the scrutiny he receives. Hello? Didn’t he ask for this? Did Paul Pierce leave Boston in front of a national TV audience? Did Kobe Bryant have a dance party when Pau Gasol came to town and emphatically promise multiple rings? Does Derrick Rose continuous talk about his “brand” and publicly beg for the Bulls to add more talent around him? No.
LeBron is a victim of his own ambition, his own vanity, his own desire for fame and fortune. We didn’t project this on LeBron James. LeBron James brought it upon himself. I’ll save my pity for a real victim.)