Another night, another milestone for LeBron James.
One night after moving into ninth place on the NBA’s all-time scoring list, the four-time Most Valuable Player and three-time champion carved out a space in the record books all his own. Playing on the second night night a back-to-back and for the third time in four nights, James was as brilliant as ever on Saturday, pouring in a season-high 44 points on blistering 17-for-24 shooting to go with 10 assists, nine rebounds, three steals and one block in 43 minutes to pace the Cleveland Cavaliers to a 116-105 win over the Charlotte Hornets.
In the process, James became the first player in NBA history to tally 27,000 points, 7,000 rebounds and 7,000 assists over the course of a career. Which, y’know, is insane.
A couple of other players have been close to hitting all three marks. Oscar Robertson, for example, had more than 9,800 assists and 7,800 rebounds, but fell 290 points shy of 27,000, while Kobe Bryant more than qualifies in the points department and had more than 7,000 rebounds, but comes up nearly 700 assists shy. (Naturally.)
But when it comes to checking off every box — the capacity to act as a team’s clear top scoring option, to clean the glass like a power forward, and to serve as a club’s primary table-setter and facilitator, and to do so night in and night out for nearly a decade and a half — James stands alone. As he was quick to point out after knocking off the Hornets for Cleveland’s fourth straight win, though, he certainly hasn’t been alone on his rise to such rarefied air. From Dave McMenamin of ESPN.com:
“I really don’t know, I don’t know what to say,” James said. “I’ve played with two great organizations that I’ve been able to do what I do. They’ve allowed me to be the player that I want to be. It just shows that’s the triple threat of me, to rebound, to pass, to put the ball in the hole a little bit. I’m just honored, just blessed and I just try to continue to give it to my teammates, give it to my fans, give it to this organization every single night that I go out there. […]
“I’ve always [taken] a lot of pride, and I get more of a rush seeing my teammates succeed more than myself,” James said at the time. “And that’s what an assist is all about. I was taught the game the right way, and seeing my teammates succeed has always been something that I’ve cared about more than anything, and that’s what it’s all about.”
On balance, that’s true; what has made James special since the St. Vincent-St. Mary days has always been his Magic-esque court vision and his constant commitment to making The Right Play, even if that meant not always calling his own number. And yet, what has helped James reach arguably the greatest heights in NBA history has been an advanced awareness of, and comfort level with, accepting that the time has come for him to take matters into his own hands for the good of the group … as he did Saturday, when he scored 17 points in the fourth quarter — including 13 straight over a 6 1/2-minute stretch — to fend off Kemba Walker and company and improve the Cavs’ record to an East-leading 17-5.
“I didn’t want to play LeBron this many minutes, but he came and said, ‘Coach, I’m fine,'” Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said after the game, according to Tom Withers of The Associated Press. “Then, he started raining 3s. We had to ride him tonight.”
Ideally, Lue won’t have to go to that well too often, and will be able to find some more opportunities to dial back James’ workload as the winter stretches on. Sometimes, though, you just need your best player to give you everything he can. And as he’s shown for 13-plus years and showed again Saturday, for LeBron James, “everything he can” means, well, everything, to a degree unmatched in league history.
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