LeBron's trust in teammates pays off against Pistons
AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- There was no mistaking the redness in LeBron James' eyes or the softness in his voice.
The visitor's locker room at the Pepsi Center in Denver was quiet and still on that night in January as James tried to explain, perhaps even to himself, what was happening.
The Cavaliers had just lost a one-point game to the Denver Nuggets, their third loss by two points or less in a three-game span on what turned out to be a brutal six-game Western trip.
James had failed to deliver in all three, be it missing a potential game-winning shot against the Lakers or passing on chances to take another in Portland and on this night against the Nuggets.
It was at that rock bottom that James and the Cavs turned around their season, a rebound that has carried them to a stunning 3-2 lead over the Detroit Pistons in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
Since losing those three tight games, the Cavs have become the NBA's best clutch team. Their 86-84 win over the Pistons in Game 5 marked the 18th time in the last 20 tries they've won a game decided by four points or less. They won six one-point games in a row, including three in their first round series victory over the Wizards, and five two-points games in a row, including Games 4 and 5 against the Pistons.
The reason started that night in Denver, when James emotionally swore he would turn it around. He promised that he was not going to change his philosophy, trusting his teammates when he was double- or triple-teamed in the clutch. They listened and so did his coach as bonds of trust started to form.
In February, James faced a double team in Chicago and dished to Flip Murray for a game-winning 3-pointer. In March, in Toronto he did the same, burning a double team by dishing to Damon Jones for a winning 3.
The home game against the Lakers when Kobe Bryant left to deny James an entry pass and Kobe's man, Murray went back door to set up the winning points. Then first game winner, a jumper in overtime to beat the Charlotte Bobcats, and a second, a jumper in Oklahoma City that cracked the Hornets' last playoff hopes.
"I've always said that I'm never going to force anything, I'm going to pass if my teammate is open," James said. "I didn't listen when everyone thought differently, I just played my game."
By the time the playoffs started James and the rest of his teammates knew not to panic when games were tight late, knowing their best player would make a play to win it himself or give one of them a great chance to do it. It carried over on the defensive end, when the Cavs showed a togetherness not seen until they went through that bitter slump, and they never gave up the open looks they enjoyed.
Then James made two more game winners. Then against the Wizards, the Cavs survived some near misses, giving them huge confidence even as a large underdog against the Pistons.
There are no tears now.
Brian Windhorst covers the Cavaliers for the Akron Beacon-Journal.
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