INDIANAPOLIS – Around LeBron James, they tell the stories with admiration of how sometimes it can be difficult to get a message to him in these playoffs. Text messages seem to disappear into a netherworld, whether it's time changes for a meeting or one of the bosses sending a word of praise. James has narrowed his exposure to the trappings of his celebrity on this championship run, made himself scarce, unavailable, with the hopes of becoming devoid of distraction.
After one of the greatest playoff performances you'll ever see – 40 points, 18 rebounds and nine assists – James' legs were buried in a bucket of ice, his eyes buried in the book, "The Hunger Games." Now and then, LeBron lifted his eyes up to talk with a passing teammate, but mostly his lips silently mouthed the words on the pages. If nothing else these days, the NBA's MVP is engrossed.
It was a picture of calm, composure and certainty. In the end, James delivered the kind of leadership that these Heat needed. Before the game, he wouldn't let the Pacers' Danny Granger and Lance Stephenson drag him into an unwinnable public discourse. This was no time for tomfoolery, down 2-1 to the Pacers, the fight suddenly being brought to James and the Heat. Chris Bosh was gone to an abdominal strain, Wade had disconnected, and James understood that these Pacers were too big, too deep and too talented.
"Everybody knew what 3-1 would've meant," Miami's Shane Battier said.
Before this 101-93 Game 4 victory over Indiana that evened this Eastern Conference playoff series, James had reached down, lent a hand and uplifted Wade. Together, they started with a simple pass for an easy basket. And kept building, kept pursuing ways to get Wade going, and soon he appeared to be his old self again. Together, they scored 25 straight points in the third quarter, a revival of the James-Wade partnership when the Pacers had momentum, confidence and a belief they could beat the Heat into submission.
Out of the rubble of a lost Game 3 and opening half of Game 4, Wade left devastation in his wake: 30 points, nine rebounds and six assists.
"I didn't say a word to him," James insisted.
No rah-rah speeches. Wade had the worst game of his playoff career on Thursday. His knees were aching, his shots off, his lost leaping reflected it. He didn't bother to rush back on defense. He even tossed a tantrum on the bench, barking at coach Erik Spoelstra.
Deep down, Wade knows better. That's why he needed to take the ride up to Bloomington, Ind., to see his old coach Tom Crean on Saturday. They talked for hours, watched game tape and talked and talked and talked. "Some time with a mentor, a father figure," Wade said. "It was great to get that energy that I needed from him."
There was always a belief that Wade could ride the wave of that 2006 NBA championship forever and hold himself in reverence for recruiting James and Chris Bosh in the summer of 2010. Well, Wade was getting hit hard, and deserved it. This is why it was so important for him to silence it all before the Heat returned to Miami for Game 5 on Tuesday, to bathe himself in the ultimate sports cleanser: victory.
Everything changed for the Heat when Wade started to make his bid for dominance beside James on Sunday.
"When LeBron has that look – and Dwyane has that look – it does so much for everybody else," Battier said. "They can raise everybody else's level significantly. Just that look. You want to run through a wall. You want to get every loose ball. You want to grab every rebound. That's what makes them special; their ability to unite and inspire the group."
These are the days that James is a force of nature, and Wade climbed alongside of him. These were extraordinary performances, but the way that the Pacers hung tough, the way they wouldn't go away, you wonder if Miami can win without a galaxial performance out of James. He needed everything with him to deliver on Sunday, and rest assured, the Pacers will return to pounding the Heat inside.
Back in his Cleveland days, you'd see James hunched over his BlackBerry. He loved to get gossip from around the league and disperse it to teammates in the locker room. No more. The moment of truth doesn't come with the Indiana Pacers in this series, but deeper into these playoffs.
For those with short-term memories, James has already proven himself in past playoff performances. The big shot is coming in June, the big moment and the world is waiting on LeBron James to deliver when it matters.
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