Game 2 of the 2014 Finals was another in a long line of statement games for LeBron James. Coming off Crampgate and a Game 1 loss, a response of sorts was required. It was delivered.
Setting up shop around the rim and not shooting his first jumpshot until three minutes into the third quarter, James played an almost exaggerated version of what I consider to be his ideal game as a scorer. Time and again in the first half he attacked the basket off the dribble or allowed others to initiative the offense whilst he bullied Spurs defenders into the low post, refusing to budge until the possession was over.
He was relentlessly aggressive, putting an immense amount of pressure on a defense which prefers not to double team. It is this kind of rough-and-tumble on-ball and off-ball physical contact he has at times shied away from him during his career, so it was rewarding to see him embrace it to such an extent in such a big game, from the very first possession:
He is an immovable force against players of his position down low. He has a size, strength and athleticism advantage over every single defender he faces, so why not take advantage of it? On no planet should Boris Diaw, fundamentally sound defender though he is, be able to stop James from doing whatever he wants to do on the floor.
He shot 6-for-11 from the field in the half, an average percentage for LeBron, but all missed shots (or made ones) are not created equal: some are inherently better than others. All of LeBron’s were good shots; he just uncharacteristically missed a couple and even more uncharacteristically did not get the benefit of a friendly whistle. It could easily have been a 10-for-10 half with a few extra free throws thrown in, a half for the ages. He would have deserved it.
It was fitting then that when he did go to his outside game in the third, he caught fire and scored his first six jumpers in a row – partly because the Spurs were on their heels preoccupied with trying to keep him away from the basket:
Any heat checks and fadeaways by James were at this point entirely excusable, and he finished with 35 points on 14-for-22 shooting – just the second time he has put up 35+ in his 24 Finals games to date. He has come a long way since his ghastly post-allergic 10-for-30 shooting performance in Game 4 versus the same Spurs in 2007.
It was more fitting still that his two most crucial plays of the game – his locking down of Parker on defense with 1:43 remaining and his assist to Bosh with 1:22 remaining – did not involve him taking a shot:
LeBron is not the winner that Russell was, the clutch shooter that Bird was, the leader that Magic was, or the ferocious competitor and consistently aggressive defender that Jordan was, but he is blessed with a greater combination of athletic gifts than any of them and when he is locked in on both ends and mentally undistracted, his all-around game is something no one in the game has ever been able to match.
When James retires, Game 2 of the 2014 Finals will likely not be as talked about as his 25 consecutive points in Detroit, his 45 points in Boston or his 61 points versus Charlotte, but it will be one that sticks out in my mind as an exhibition of his unworldly talent and physical dominance and a reminder that as far as 25+ points per game scorers go, his unselfishness and passing ability are second to none. Should he fail to at least equal the five rings of Kobe Bryant, it will be a performance we can all scratch our heads over and say “how did he not win more?” As of now though the Heat have stolen home court advantage and James is in the driver’s seat for ring No. 3.
Game 3 is tonight. More of the same please, LeBron.
And none of this ever again please, Tiago: