The Disappointment Zone

Musings from a Cleveland sports fan

ECF Game 5: LeBron James

Posted by disappointmentzone on 1 June 2007

If you go browsing YouTube for highlights from last night’s coronation you will find a whole slew of clips, all of them of LeBron James, and many of them over three minutes long. Which is patently absurd when you think about it. How can one man generate enough amazing plays to warrant a highlight reel that lasts so long? Then you notice that all of these highlight reels only cover the last few minutes of regulation and all of overtime and your jaw hits the floor and you swear off your biggest vices because you’ve just seen the second coming.

While watching the game last night I was, like many Cavs faithful, poised on the brink of delirium as the final shot from Mr. Big Shot himself clanked off the iron. Seven minutes later, after everything had sunk in, I was limp with satiation.

There is no doubt we were all witnesses to the greatest game in Cavs’ history.

There is no doubt we were all witnesses to the greatest game in LBJ’s history.

There is no doubt that we were all witnesses to the most dominating stretch of basketball in the most crucial moments of a playoff game in the history of the league.

29 of the last 30 and the last 25? All 18 in double overtime against one of the top defensive teams in the NBA? On their home court? On one day’s rest?

At the age of 22?

Yikes.

Make no mistake, this was the first time in his young career that LBJ channeled the spirit of his basketball forebear, Michael Jordan. Brian Windhorst noted it in his blog, but I’m sure it was plane as day to many serious basketball fans: LBJ killed the Pistons without emotion. It was pure cold-blooded manslaughter. Gone was the (silly) scowl that so often marks his face after any big shot. In its place was an eerie stillness that at once belied and bolstered the ruthless core so quickly emerging in this young prodigy. (1) Nike may have to expand its cast of LeBrons to include Psycho Killer LeBron.

A few notes about the game:

* Flip Saunders is a terrible coach + Mike Brown making one good coaching decision = a LBJ with enough energy to kill the Pistons in the fourth quarter and overtime. Why on earth the Pistons don’t make LBJ play defense is beyond me. This is not to suggest that LBJ isn’t trying on defense, only that he doesn’t have to do too much because the Pistons aren’t attacking him. The result is a foul-free, energy-filled player. Add on top of that Mike Brown resting LBJ at the start of the fourth quarter and you have a player with about 20% more energy than anyone else on the court. Want to know why LBJ was able to blow past so many defenders seemingly at will in the final minutes of the game? Spacing is part of it, but an equally big part is the advantage LBJ has over his opponents in terms of energy. Mike Brown rode the momentum shift from Boobie’s huge three-pointer to end the third quarter as long as he could before putting LBJ back into the game. Great coaching call.

* I suggested in my recap of game four that Varejao should do whatever he can to annoy the hell out of Rasheed Wallace since Wallace has five technical fouls. Not sure how much he annoyed Wallace, but it’s pretty clear that he’s getting under the skin of many Piston players.

* How dominating was LBJ? Only two other players scored in double figures: Z with 16 and Gibson with 11. Gooden called him Video Game LeBron. Yes.

* Of course, there is no rational explanation for why LBJ started taking all those jumpers in overtime. He finishes regulation be recording two easy dunks and then decides to display his arsenal of pull-up jumpers? Makes very little sense, especially given his streaky shooting touch. He was in the zone and it all worked out in the end, but there was no reason for LBJ to stop driving to the hoop. None. Call me crazy, but I would never want to rely on LBJ shooting 20-footers to win a game. It just isn’t his strength.

* Finally, last night’s game was one of those rare instances when boxscore stats do not do justice to the productivity of a player. If you look at his Win Score stats, LBJ was just a big less productive in game five than he was in game three (which is still wildly productive, mind you). But Win Score cannot account for leverage, and scoring the final 25 points in regulation and overtime is more critical than scoring the first 25 points in a game. LBJ put the rest of the team on his back when the game mattered most. That can’t be captured in numbers.

1: This might not go over well, but does anyone else think that the constant posing after shots is aimed solely at people who buy Sprite, Nike, Product X? LBJ is savvy and knows that he has a persona to maintain and posturing after every big dunk is one way of contributing to that persona. I am totally convinced that at some point he was told to act how he does after big plays. (#) Which is what makes last night’s stoicism so interesting. Might this be the first time in his professional career that LBJ was playing basketball without thought about the outside world? I would equate singular focus with Stone-faced Killer Mode.

#: LBJ is incredibly aware of how basketball games are directed — the cut-ins to individual closeups after big plays, for instance — and of how highlight reels always seek that emotional punch to any athletic feat. Watch SportsCenter sometime and pay attention to the portion of highlights devoted to reactions rather than actions. Not surprisingly, when you interview for a PA job at ESPN you are asked to look at a couple of incomplete highlight reels and note what’s missing. One of those highlights is missing reaction shots. Trust me: displaying emotional reactions is something ESPN does systematically.

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