CLEVELAND -- They told us in his first commercial what his greatest gift is.
"The Chosen One didn't ask for hops," the late comedian Bernie Mac shouted from the pulpit in a 2004 TV commercial that some nicknamed "The Soul of the Game." "He didn't aaassskkk for handle," Mac continued in the cadence of many a black preacher. "Court vision. The Chosen One asked for crazy court vision!"
can score with anybody. He can leap to the rafters, shift the basket stanchion with his strength, move with the grace of a dancer.
But what separates him from the other greats of this generation -- Kobe, D-Wade, Melo -- and any generation, is his court vision. His ability to facilitate like the finest point guards in the game and still put up 35, 40 points.
The Cleveland Cavaliers
forgot that early in their Eastern Conference final with the Orlando Magic
. It's hard to blame them now that LeBron's jumper is as pure as Sunday School. Mesmerized by the one-on-one clinics he's been putting on, they've too often stood around and watched him go to work.
But even when LeBron is hitting shot after shot after shot, the Cavaliers are better when the ball is moving, when everybody's getting involved and he's getting his points within the flow of the offense, rather than on dribble-dribble-dribble isolation plays.
In win-or-go-home-and-"chill-at-the-house" mode, as LeBron put it afterwards, the Cavaliers took pains to get back to the team concept Thursday in Game 5. The result was an impressive 112-102 victory, their first double-digit win over the exasperating Magic in more than three years (Feb. 21, 2006).
LeBron, who entered the game averaging 42.3 points and just
7.3 assists, turned in perhaps the most outstanding performance of his otherworldly postseason, recording his first triple-double of the series with 37 points, 12 assists and 14 rebounds. More importantly, especially through the first three quarters, he didn't dominate the ball, and his teammates finally found their groove.
"That was huge," James said of the Cavs' equal-opportunity offense. "Getting the ball moving against this team is key."
Just because James didn't dominate the ball doesn't mean he didn't dominate. With the Cavs trailing 79-75 with 39 seconds left in the third quarter, LeBron turned the game into his own personal showcase, either scoring -- and this part is critical -- or assisting
on every Cleveland basket the rest of the game.
He made six shots and dropped five dimes in that stretch, and all and all, he had a hand in 31 straight Cleveland points. The performance was being compared to his Game 5 masterpiece in 2007, when he scored 48 points, including the Cavs' last 25, in a victory at Detroit. But that game put the Cavs up 3-2; this one only moved them within 3-2.
"Some star players just put their head down and attack the basket," Cavs center Ben Wallace
said. "They put blinders on. But he sees the whole floor, he's aware of what's going on out there, and he can pass over defenders. That's what makes him who he is."
The Cavaliers isolated James in the fourth quarter, but they put a different, more effective twist on it. Instead of having him bring the ball up court or catch it high on the wing, they planted him at the foul line and fed him the pass. They then spread the floor with their shooters and put Magic defender Mickael Pietrus
in the unenviable position of guarding James one-on-one with the floor spaced.
Facing Pietrus up with the option to take him off the dribble, back him down or hit the midrange jumper -- he did all of those, by the way -- James scored 17 in the final period.
One thing that made the scheme so unstoppable was the fact that James' shooters -- Mo Williams
, Daniel Gibson
and Delonte West
-- had been hot throughout the game, largely because of the Cavs' ball movement. That kept the Magic defenders from leaving them at the 3-point line to collapse on James.
When they did pounce on him, James -- with his court vision -- found them for open treys, Gibson hitting two and Williams one in the fourth.
Williams was particularly good, finally busting out of a 32 percent shooting slump to sink six 3-pointers in dropping 24 points. His six triples matched his total through the first four contests, and he became the first Cavs player besides James to score 20 or more points in a game this series. Gibson hit three 3-pointers and scored 11 points, West scored 13, and Zydrunas Ilgauskas
Though the Cavs got other players involved in the offense through the first three quarters of Game 4, they really hadn't clicked as a unit since the first quarter of Game 1. In that one, all five Cavs starters scored five or more points as Cleveland built a 33-19 first-quarter lead.
But from that point on, the Cavs became spectators in The King James Show, standing and watching him pour in 49 points. While he was on fire, hitting 20 of 30 shots, the offense got stagnant and the rest of the Cavs got cold, which led to his career playoff-high being wasted in a loss.
With James' great knack for scoring within the system, there's no need to have him go one-on-five.
A colleague of mine, who attended both Kobe's 61-point outburst and LeBron's 52-point night against the Knicks at Madison Square Garden this season, told me this: "It looked like Kobe had about 85 points and LeBron had about 30."
That's because LeBron got his in the flow of the game, while adding 11 assists to boot.
The Chosen One asked for court vision, and he got it. If the Cavs remember that and utilize it in Game 6, they may have a chance to pull off the rally of the year and reach The Finals after all.
Chris Broussard is a senior writer at ESPN The Magazine.
Playoff Dimes past: May 12 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 20 | 21 | 22 | 23 | 24 | 25 | 26 | 27 | 28
By Chris Sheridan | ESPN.com
CLEVELAND -- The grease board in the visiting locker room had four one-line messages written on it after the game, the utterly perfect penmanship betraying the source of the man who wrote it: Orlando head coach Stan Van Gundy.
"48" read the first line, as in 48 minutes. (Translation: 24 to 30 minutes of good basketball, which was what the Magic played, ain't going to get you to the NBA Finals.)
"Defend" read the second line, and the word was circled. (Translation: You fall behind by 22 points in the first quarter -- the third time in this series in this building that the Magic have dug themselves a deep, early hole -- you aren't defending with the vigor of a team worthy of playing for the Larry O'Brien trophy.)
"Rebound" was the one-word entry on line No. 3, and we point to two quarters: The first and the fourth. Cleveland outrebounded Orlando 14-6 in the first period when the Cavs jumped out to that 22-point lead. And in the final stanza, the Cavs had four offensive rebounds (Orlando had none), helping account for their 13-2 advantage in second-chance points in the last 12 minutes of Cleveland's 112-102 victory Thursday night that cut Orlando's lead to 3-2 in the Eastern Conference finals.
"Take care of ball" was the last message, and you can trace the beginning of the end for the Magic in Game 5 to just prior to the midpoint of the fourth quarter when Orlando had a chance to seize control. The Magic were ahead 90-89 at the time, LeBron James
had just missed a 3-pointer, and Rafer Alston
sprinted downcourt as though he was trying to imitate Usain Bolt. The rock was poked away, the possession had lasted only 3 or 4 seconds, and the ball had most definitely not been taken care of.
A possession later, James scored inside and converted a three-point play for a 92-90 lead, and that was the beginning of the end. A 13-3 run ensued as Orlando went more than 4½ minutes without making a single field goal, the spurt ending when James drove on Mickael Pietrus
and drew Dwight Howard's sixth foul with 2:22 remaining.
• See the full Sheridan story