For the past few years, for the most part, LeBron has been exalted as the greatest player in the NBA. Having won back-to-back rings and Finals MVP trophies, LeBron finally was able to put his past failures behind him. He could forget about that Game 6 loss to the Celtics in the 2010 playoffs, the game where he supposedly quit on his team and realized he had to leave Cleveland if he wanted to win. He could forget The Decision, that poorly conceived public interview with Jim Gray, where LeBron announced he was “taking his talents to South Beach,” cementing the public’s dislike for him. He could forget about the 2011 Finals embarrassment against the Mavericks, the series that cemented that LeBron was unclutch, at least in the public’s eyes. And he could forget about all those other times his play, toughness, and legacy were criticized or questioned. The most astute LeBron-haters would even point out that LeBron was one all-time great Ray Allen three away from being 1-3 in the Finals. You might think LeBron would be immune to any questions about his ability at this stage of his career, but you would be wrong. To those who incessantly criticize LeBron, the question is not of his ability–it’s of his drive, competitiveness, and toughness. After all, MJ played through the flu! Or something like that. And Kobe stayed in the game to shoot free throws when his achilles ruptured last year! LeBron, though? He had to be carried off the floor when he had a CRAMP! He doesn’t even deserve to be talked about in the same breath as Jordan and Kobe, right? That is the type of Skip Bayless-esque trollery that has cluttered Twitter for the past 72 hours, so it was particularly satisfying, even as someone who has not yet officially claimed a spot on the already-crowded LeBron bandwagon, to see James put the team on his back last night and turn in an easy 35 and 10 performance in Game 2.
It was one of those games that reminds you just how many ways LeBron can beat you. Everyone knew that LeBron can score in the post, basically at will. They also knew he consistently makes the right play and can find the open guy whenever he wants. But what LeBron did in the 3rd quarter reminded us just how impossible he is to stop when he gets hot. LeBron beat the Spurs with jump shots last night. Good luck stopping that. He hit mid-range jumpers. He hit 3’s. He hit shots off the bounce. Off the catch. There was no stopping LeBron last night, no matter who the Spurs threw at him. They tried Kawhi, Diaw, even Parker a few times late. And when it counted most, LeBron did what he does best: find the open guy. He drove the lane and forced the defense to collapse, freezing every defender on the court, leaving Bosh virtually wide open in the corner. Bosh cooly hit the 3 to put the Heat up a bucket with a minute to go. They didn’t look back.
The game ended with a meaningless Ginobili 3 at the buzzer. The crowd gave a half cheer for the made shot, despite it signaling the end of the game and a loss. Duncan walked off the court wide-eyed, with a look we have become accustomed to seeing from him. It’s the same look he had one year ago after missing a chippy that would’ve tied the game in Game 7 against the Heat. It’s the look he’s had all year, one of revenge and determination at fixing that mistake–that missed opportunity. Last night was one more missed opportunity for the Spurs. They held a double digit lead for a time in the second quarter, and looked only a few plays away from possibly putting the game away. Then towards the end of the game, when Mario Chalmers was whistled for a flagrant foul elbow on Tony Parker, the Spurs again had a chance at extending their lead. With the Spurs up two, Parker and Duncan combined to miss four consecutive free throws. Duncan gave the same somewhat haunted look as he walked off the court, knowing his team should’ve closed out the Heat, but blew another opportunity.