Jun 8, 2012, 10:06 AM EDT
“He’s not smiling.”
I made that remark to my wife Thursday night as the Heat took the floor for Game 6 in Boston when I saw LeBron James, a serious, almost somber look on his face. James is a known “happy-go-fun” guy, often to the annoyance of teammates and opponents. Sure, he tries to look serious during parts of the game, but usually it’s more of a blank look. On Thursday, he looked downright dour, and it was easy to make the jump to conclusions that he had arrived for his own public funeral, the “we come to bury LeBron, not to praise him” event of the century, a Boston Mean Party. I took it as a sign he knew it was over, the series was done, the Celtics had won, he had failed again.
I was wrong. 45 points, 15 rebounds, 5 assists. 98-79 Miami over Boston. See you on South Beach for Game 7 Saturday.
It wasn’t a cold-blooded performance. That would imply that he felt nothing. And as much as an exhausted James attempted to downplay any change of motivation, to say he just went back to his habits, this one felt different. He wasn’t seething with anger, he wasn’t rioting against the Celtics’ harassment and mocking of him throughout this series (which James would have been crucified for but what else is new). He wasn’t frontrunning or showing them up. This wasn’t M.J.’s shrug or Magic’s exuberance, or Bird’s fury.
You got the sense as James calmly and determinedly went back to work on defense after every make, every bucket that this wasn’t LeBron vs. the Celtics, or even LeBron vs. the World. He was withdrawn, as if fuming at himself for any moment where he felt happiness at shots going down. “Can’t stop” was the message. And after the game, after dropping 45 points on 26 shots, 15 rebounds, and having left Paul Pierce a shattered, sad, broken mess of the offensive juggernaut he is, there was no smile or satisfaction from James in post-game interviews. He wasn’t talking about what a great win it was. He was cold, resigned. “We had to win this game.” That was the message.
And while I have no choice but to believe James will revert to the pompous, pouting child he comes across as (and make no mistake, I consider this to be a problem in portraying himself to the world; I have no idea who James is on the inside, I’m not sure anyone does), whether the Heat win or lose Game 7. Win, and there’s a risk he could feel that he accomplished something when he hasn’t, lose and he could turn defiant that he can be knocked off his pedestal, the way he was in last year’s Finals after elimination, talking about people going back to their lives.
But for a night, it was there. All of it. Honestly, James could have played better. Those five assists are on the low side. I’m not criticizing. I’m pointing out how insane that is. He scored 45 points on 26 shots against the best defense in the NBA, had 15 rebounds, and leveled Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett defensively and he could have played better. That is insane, but then, his night was insane, his season has been insane, his life has been insane.
There were two that got me, both in the third. He waited for Rondo to reach, spun, and then, instead of trying what he normally does, which is to barrel into Kevin Garnett and attempt a rolling scoop shot around KG, he quick-shot a floater just over Paul Pierce’s outstretched arms. Perfect.
Later in the third, he caught the ball in the shallow post vs. Rondo on the baseline. How many times have I seen him catch that, face-up, and then take five seconds trying to figure out the defense before shooting a face-up fadeaway? Granted, last night he would have hit the fadeaway. Hell, he would have hit the fadeaway if he was on the moon. But instead he immediately caught and spun. It was a fadeaway, but it was in rhythm. It was decisive.
He ran back on defense and went back to work. The game was over. He was not through.
So now we wait for Game 7, and another chance for James to make all of our vitriolic dreams come true or ascend to this next level of greatness he can aspire to. We wait to see how the Celtics respond to being embarrassed, how the Heat respond when they have to help James out, and most importantly we wait to see which LeBron James we get.
I’ll tell you one thing, if he’s not smiling in Game 7, we’re gonna need reinforcements.
Jun 30, 2015, 9:01 PM EDT
The Clippers want him, but they have other, larger concerns.
Jun 30, 2015, 8:16 PM EDT
It’s a deep pool of shooters in free agency.
Jun 30, 2015, 7:34 PM EDT
It’s the Lakers being the Lakers again.
Jun 30, 2015, 6:45 PM EDT
Mo Williams can still score, he’d be a good pickup for the Cavs.
Jun 30, 2015, 6:03 PM EDT
Monroe finally has the free agency he turned down a lot of cash to get.
Jun 30, 2015, 5:15 PM EDT
The big men will set the market.
Jun 30, 2015, 4:44 PM EDT
There is a clear compromise of three years at the max, but will the Bulls and Butler get there
Jun 30, 2015, 4:15 PM EDT
Big men like LaMarcus Aldridge and DeAndre Jordan will shape the free agency landscape.
Jun 30, 2015, 3:45 PM EDT
Sorry Scottie, LeBron is just the better player.
Jun 30, 2015, 3:03 PM EDT
He’s reportedly seeking a shorter deal, too, which negates L.A.’s inherent advantage.
Jun 30, 2015, 2:20 PM EDT
Shumpert is a restricted free agent, so Cavaliers can match any offer he might receive.
Jun 30, 2015, 1:30 PM EDT
It only takes one team to make Miami nervous.
Jun 30, 2015, 12:45 PM EDT
His brother said so in a radio interview.
Report: Kings probing John Calipari about his interest in coaching and running the team’s front office
Jun 30, 2015, 11:58 AM EDT
Ownership in Sacramento continues to be a disaster.
Jun 30, 2015, 11:17 AM EDT
And he could be traded again before his contract becomes guaranteed on July 11.
Gregg Popovich won’t be recruiting free agents at midnight, doesn’t want them if that factors into their decision
Jun 30, 2015, 10:40 AM EDT
Pop being Pop.
Jun 30, 2015, 9:55 AM EDT
Hawks are facing a lot of uncertainty with their roster.
Jun 30, 2015, 9:15 AM EDT
It’s becoming increasingly unlikely that Aldridge returns to the Blazers.
Jun 30, 2015, 8:30 AM EDT
This could be decided quickly.
Jun 30, 2015, 8:00 AM EDT
This was expected, there is no drama here.
- Report: Lakers working to clear out more cap space to land both LaMarcus Aldridge, DeAndre Jordan 18
- PBT Extra: What players will most influence free agency? 1
- PBT Podcast: The top guys to watch as NBA free agency tips off 1
- Scottie Pippen: “I was LeBron James before LeBron James” 24
- Report: Kings probing John Calipari about his interest in coaching and running the team’s front office 20
- Report: Chicago Bulls give Jimmy Butler max qualifying offer 18
- Report: Dwyane Wade will not opt-in with Heat, to become free agent (as expected) 31
- Report: Knicks front runner to land Arron Afflalo (and Greg Monroe, too) 27