CLEVELAND – There were no secrets, no trick plays, no deception. It was the fourth quarter, a tight game and the Cleveland Cavaliers were facing elimination, facing an uncertain future. No one was going to mess around.
Give it to LeBron.
That was the offense. Give it to LeBron at the top of the key, clear out and let him figure something out. When James was done, Cleveland had a 112-102 victory over the Orlando Magic in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals and a date Saturday night in Florida.
Mike Brown was named the NBA's Coach of the Year and he proved it Thursday, not necessarily for what he did do, but what he didn't. "Nothing tricky," he noted.
Why bother? Give it to LeBron, he told his team. Then get out of the way. So the Cavs did as they were told and LeBron James(notes), possession after possession, time after time, trip after trip, figured out what to do next.
From an assist at the end of the third quarter on a Daniel Gibson(notes) 3-pointer that cut Orlando's lead to one, all the way to an assist on a three-point play by Anderson Varejao(notes) to put Cleveland comfortably ahead by 11 with just 1:07 remaining, LeBron James either scored or assisted on every Cavalier point.
All 32 of them. In a row.
He scored 17 points during the run and assisted on five three-point plays as his teammates spread out and feasted on open looks. Just for the fun of it, he also grabbed four rebounds and drew five fouls, which helped send Dwight Howard(notes) to the bench.
"The game is basically all LeBron all the time," lamented Magic coach Stan Van Gundy.
"We just gave him the ball," Brown smiled.
Sometimes it's that easy.
"Just take what the defense gives me," James offered.
The Cavs changed their offense by abandoning using James in pick-and-rolls and instead getting him the ball near the top of the key. With everyone spread out and James still in possession of his dribble, the option of guarding him one-on-one became impossible.
"Something that as a unit, players and coaches, we came up with, trying to find a way to exploit their defense with all our shooters out there," James said. "When my guys make shots, it makes it a lot easier on me because it allows me to go one-on-one with a defender. They can't help [on] me as much."
As amazing as the 25 consecutive points he ran off against the Detroit Pistons in Game 5 of the 2007 East finals were, this may have been more impressive. That was James literally going one-on-five and the one winning.
This was a step up from just pure physical ability. There was that, too, of course. He overpowered defenders at times and outran them at others. He also out-thought them on nearly every trip down the court.
Blessed with myriad skills and an unprecedented combination of size and speed, it's too easy to ignore James' gift of pure basketball instincts. With the entire season on the line no one in Cleveland flinched at the idea of letting James freelance the entire quarter.
He passed when it was time to pass. He shot when it was time to shoot. He drove the lane when it was time to drive the lane. He used each teammate perfectly, and, for once, was able to bust a game open so Orlando couldn't steal it away late.
There was no hesitation, no second thought, no timeout to get everyone in order. It was a straight dose of LeBron's brilliance, the conductor choosing the tune and the band trying to keep up.
His astounding line – 37 points, 14 rebounds and 12 assists – doesn't begin to describe it.
Orlando doesn't rattle, of course. Not from buzzer beaters, not from virtuoso performances. For Saturday, Van Gundy vowed to have an adjustment to the Cavs adjustment. Cleveland still has a way to go to climb out of this hole.
Still, what went down in that fourth quarter was basketball at its finest, individual genius fueling team perfection. One player, 32 points. One player, one critical victory. One player, no regrets.
"At this time of year, you win or you chill at the house," James said.
He wasn't ready to chill.
"I signed up to play for a long time in the series and this season."
So did the rest of the Cavs. So they just gave him the ball and let him force another day. No tricks, just James.