February 04, 2011
Do you want to see that guy again? Over and over, again? Me too. Which is why LeBron James, despite being the best player on the planet for the last three years or so, will be nothing short of a constant disappointment until he starts winning championships every year, nearly averaging a triple-double with 30 points per game as his starting point.
I'm not pointing toward those numbers because I need him to make up for what happened last May, and I'm not hoping for those rings in order to wash the stank of "The Decision" away. Those were the demands even before 2010. I expect these things and these results, because of how fantastically brilliant LeBron James can be when he cares. And when he eschews the AAU-styled dribble-dribble-dribble mentality for a brand of ball that takes advantage of those significant gifts of his.
Quick decisions. Movement away from the ball. Drives. Hot passes, smart finishes. Rebounds, activity and interest. An appreciation of the ability that he's been handed, and has (at times) worked to refine.
It's only fleeting. That's the problem. We have no idea when Thursday night will show up again. For all we know, last Thursday (when James dribbled his way out of a win against the Knicks) will show up again.
Which is why, according to Matt Moore, we need to appreciate what James gave us against the Magic.
James' performance was among his all-time greatest performances. It was his highest rebound total in a 50-plus-point game and the second highest in rebounds plus assists in a 50-plus-point game. Historically, it was only the fourth 50-plus-point, 11-plus rebound, 8-plus-assist game in history, with Jordan, Bryant, and Wade owners of the other three. It's the second highest field goal percentage in such an effort, behind Jordan's 20 of 28 performance in '89. And with Wade and Bryant's both coming in a triple-overtime and double-overtime game respectively, Jordan and James are the only two players in history to complete a 50-11-8 game in regulation. What's more? This was the slowest-paced game of those historic efforts, with an estimated 88 possessions, while Bryant's was at 90. This wasn't just a herculean effort, it was the very model of modern efficiency.
Understand what he's saying, here. This was a golden-age performance, shown to you on basic cable in February, in your lifetime.
I've always regarded Kobe Bryant's(notes) 81 points against the Raptors from five years ago to be a good step ahead of Wilt Chamberlain's 100-point outing from 50 years ago, mainly because of the gimmicky way Wilt worked his way toward those 100 (with his team fouling on one end to give Wilt the ball again, and Chamberlain tossing in easy baskets against the Knicks during a blowout, with 30 or so more possessions to work with as compared to Kobe), but as much as we dislike LeBron (and it was easy to dislike him last night, with all that preening late in the win), was this the best regular season performance in NBA history?
I don't care how that question makes you feel. James' night out actually ticked me off, nearly as much as the Knicks loss, because it just reminded me that he can do this just about any time he wants. Against one of the best defensive teams of his era, with Dwight Howard(notes) on the court for each of the 48 minutes, he went off for 50 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists. That's a stunning achievement, especially in a slow (88-possession) game. And for those looking toward the free throw fest that ended things ... stop. Even with all those late chucks from the Magic, turning this game into a close one, the possession count still ended up at 88. That's slower than the slowest team in the NBA (Detroit, at 88.7 possessions per game) plays. This was an epic performance.
An epic performance that still left us cold. In the first half, it was because we knew that LeBron can bring this sort of production just about every night, even though he still prefers to while away his career on the perimeter. In the second half? It was all that tacky mugging at the (admittedly, nasty) Magic fans or the 3-pointer (when he could have driven, as he had all night) to clinch it. The guy just can't win in our eyes, and I'll make no apologies for that.
But I will continue to refer to his greatness. When he's engaged -- as was the case when he dragged a pathetic Cavalier team into the Finals in 2007 -- this man is an absolute giant. And even when he bides his time, as he's done throughout his career, he is still the best player in the game. The guy is giving us his B-side every night, and yet he's still the toppermost of the poppermost.
Revel in it, I say. Pull it up online or scan NBA TV for the replay.
But stay on this guy. Because this is in him nightly. Don't ever let LeBron James forget that.