When LeBron James has one of those nights, everyone else turns into fans.
His teammates? Yep. Even his coach.
“I try as much as possible,” Cleveland Cavaliers coach Mike Brown said Sunday, “to stay out of the way.”
With one of his best performances in the NBA, James carried the Cavaliers to the brink of another playoff sweep with a victory Saturday night.
The Atlanta Hawks sure know what they’re up against, having watched their most inspired game of the series turned into just another loss by the MVP’s 47 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists.
“Right now, he’s playing at such a high level,” said Hawks coach Mike Woodson, sounding a bit disheartened as his team heads into Game 4 tonight in Atlanta. “Man, it’s crazy how good he’s playing. It really is.”
James has played 108 minutes in the series – and scored 108 points. As Brown said, stay out of the way.
“He is making so many special plays,” teammate Mo Williams said, while meeting with the media on a patio at the team’s luxury hotel in Atlanta. “We just try to give him some space.”
While James’ performance in a 97-82 victory Saturday night didn’t quite reach the level of his 48-point effort against Detroit in the 2007 Eastern Conference finals – that was the one where he scored his team’s last 25 points in a double-overtime victory, on the way to Cleveland’s first appearance in the NBA Finals – it certainly ranked in the top five.
James was 15-of-25 shooting, including 5-of-10 from 3-point range. He drew one foul after another and was 12-of-16 at the free-throw line (compared with Atlanta’s 7-of-11). He led all rebounders with 12, leading the Cavaliers to a mammoth 46-23 edge on the boards.
On those rare occasions when he couldn’t create a shot of his own, he had eight assists. He also had a steal and a blocked shot.
It sure looked like fun.
“I’m always having fun,” James said. “I love the game with a passion.”
Amazingly for someone who had the ball in his hands so much, he turned it over all of one time.
“Our guys did the best they could to guard him,” said Hawks guard Flip Murray, a former Sonics player. “But when you’re hitting shots like that, it’s hard for anyone to guard.”
Murray is a former Cavaliers teammate, but this isn’t the King James he remembers.
“He’s matured a lot since I was there with him,” Murray said.
The Hawks tried to guard James with two or three players, but it really didn’t matter. Once he pulled up at the top of the key, a good five feet shy of the 3-point line, and hoisted a shot before Atlanta had time to react.
A couple of times, he dribbled past all five players on the home team, weaving this way and that as though he were a catch-me-if-you-can point guard – not a 6-foot-8, 250-pounder. The result was the same.
“When he’s really got it going,” Williams said, “it doesn’t matter how many players are on him.”
Forget about the play
When the Dallas Mavericks went over game film from Saturday’s 106-105 loss to Denver, there was one key play missing from the highlights.
Missing was Dallas’ Antoine Wright bumping Carmelo Anthony in an obvious attempt to draw a foul, then bumping him again, yet not drawing a whistle. Anthony then made a 3-pointer with one second to go to win the game for Denver.
“We’re not going to get that last play back, so just by watching it doesn’t do us any good,” Mavs star Dirk Nowitzki said.