In a game that many (including myself) thought would cause LeBron James to melt like the Wicked Witch Of The West meeting a bucket o’ water, the man came through impressively, silencing his critics. Well, silencing some. Perhaps how silenced people are has to do with how injured they were, or what exactly about his “Decision” upset them. There are four main reasons why people were angry, and me, I fall into the fourth category. They are:
1. For a bunch of New Yorkers, Chicagoans, etc., they’re just bitter he didn’t come to their city. Except for the people who chose to cling to hate (which, granted, is a huge chunk of us New Yawkers), they’ll eventually no longer care and will move on.
2. For lots, they claim their anger is based solely on the fact that he chose to televise his live rejection of Cleveland. That crowd will likely move on eventually, too. And they will get some justification ‘cuz in like 20 years, after LeBron’s retired and had enough distance from this situation, he will ultimately completely agree and confess that airing his Decision on air was an awful idea.
3. For many Clevelanders, although they claim their main issue was the manner in which LeBron left, the truth is that it felt like being dumped by a lover out of nowhere. Worse, due to their years of sports futility, it was more like being single your whole life, never dating anyone for so long that you start to doubt anyone could ever find you attractive, only to have the world’s best/hottest/most eligible bachelor/bachelorette pick you of all people. You’re in heaven, so you don’t notice the warning signs (ie. the Yankees hat and a refusal to commit long-term) or give credence to the bad times (two straight playoff defeats when having the best record in the league). You’re just happy to have found someone great, so you don’t notice that they want more and that they might not return the same feelings. For those people, it will take a long, long time to move on, and many, depending on their disposition, never will. It’s about you: are you the type who when you look back on a former lover who broke your heart, do you remember the good times, or do you only chose to remember the painful ending?
4. The fourth, and final, main group (and, of course, there’s a bunch of overlap between all these groups), are the people who are upset because we feel his Decision deprived us of a chance to see if he could’ve been the GOAT (Greatest Of All Time). I mean, except for Toronto-ites, no one cares that Chris Bosh left the Raptors. Even someone absolutely, superlatively, phenomenal like Kobe Bryant, who, if not already, will eventually be a top 10 player of all time, isn’t quite in the same category. LeBron lead a Cavaliers team that, as we saw again last night, didn’t have a single other currently All-Star worthy player to the best record in the league. Twice. If the Lakers lost Kobe, they’d still be a playoff team, and one could easily argue that Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom and Andrew Bynum (when healthy) are all individually better than anyone left on the Cavs. And honestly, as great as Michael Jordan was, I’m not sure that even he could’ve lead that team to so many wins. Although I am 100% certain that Jordan wouldn’t have vanished in the playoffs for two years in a row. Anyway, the point is that those of us who wanted to see if he could be the best of all time, we felt/feel that while he may win more rings with Wade, because he’ll have to share the ball a bunch more, it won’t be army-style where he’ll get to Be All That He Can Be. For many who feel that way, last night might’ve been some comfort, some hope, that maybe he can still achieve greatness. For me, not so much. I’ll get back to why I feel that way, but for now, let’s go over some key thoughts/take-aways from the game:
-Lots of brouhaha was made over whether he’d do his throw chalk in the air thingy. I didn’t get why people wondered, ‘cuz, duh, of course he would. He does it every frickin’ game. Basketball players are damn superstitious and very into their rituals. It’d be like a player changing their routine at the free-throw line for one game.
-Interestingly, in terms of who watched, overall the game had a 4.2 rating (which represents a percentage out of all the people were watching something on TV). However, in Miami there was a whopping 25.4 rating, while Cleveland, surprisingly, had only a 14.9. Many Clevelanders have said that they’ve moved on, so perhaps this is proof of it.
-Tons of props to LeBron for his mental focus. I didn’t think he had it in him. This was the guy who put the Cavs on his back to defeat Detroit a few years ago and make it to the finals. I hope he permanently replaces the guy who faded away the last two years.
-I had also expected Chris Bosh to turn invisible and was happy to see that he didn’t. Look, on one hand, I really, really, really wanted the Heat to fall apart and lose embarrassingly, so I’d have loved for Bosh to be as awful as he was at the start of the season. On the other hand, I watch basketball to see greatness and glory, not for defeat and crumbling. Yes, okay, last night I wanted crumbling, but long term I know that won’t sustain me. After watching Bosh in the opening game of the season against Boston, where he looked so overwhelmed, I started to wonder if he had the mental fortitude to play in big games. I realized that the Raptors, who had only made the playoffs twice during his tenure, never had any big games, so he had no experience in them. And the fact that he was only able to get them to the show twice in all his years there, well, that kinda showed that he’s not great at taking the pressure and winning games when they really count. So I was impressed that he hit more than half his jumpers and didn’t look as lost as he did in that first game. Maybe he can be a real player after all.
-On the other hand, poor Mo Williams, who perhaps came up even shorter than LeBron during the last two playoffs, well, he kinda, sorta, totally proved LeBron’s point as to why James left. Before the game, Mo was one of the few/only people who was admitting that this was a big game. That was saying he was hurt, that LeBron’s exit was a slap in the face to not just Cleveland, but to his former teammates, implying they weren’t good enough. Mo and LeBron were supposedly really tight while the two were together on the team, but word was that after that second disappearing act by Mo, LeBron wanted him gone. Yet I believe Mo, much like the jilted lover described above, never realized quite how much James had soured on him, so he was as devastated as anyone by the Decision. He was so heartbroken that he even talked about retiring. So he came out wanting to play big, knowing this probably would be the Cavs’ most important game of the season, and he promptly stunk up the joint. Four turnovers and twenty-five percent shooting. Yikes. Don’t get me wrong, he’ll still have a good season and could end up being the team’s most consistent, best player, but the guy conclusively showed/proved he has testicles of mothballs.
-But back to LeBron. With him, Bosh and Wade all playing well in the same game for the first time, lots of pundits are now saying that this is the Miami Heat team everyone thought they’d see, that maybe this will be the big turnaround for them. I didn’t see that. The key thing that people aren’t mentioning, or maybe just didn’t pay attention to, was the way in which James was great last night. He shot 15-0f-25, or 60%, scoring 38 points. However, if you get rid of his layup and dunk attempts, he still shot nearly 58%. At least 17 of those 25 shot attempts were from 16 feet away or further. In other words, what made his night so great was that his jump shot was on fire. But for someone like him to be taking nearly 70% of his shots from outside, it’s a recipe for disaster. You might argue that if he’s hitting ‘em, why not, but this wasn’t a one night thing. The Heat, despite having LeBron and Wade, two guys who were among the very best in points in the paint last season due to their driving ability, are I believe 29th in points in the paint. Yes, they showed that they can be ferocious on defense (although the Cavs have also struggled offensively all season), but on offense this wasn’t about them being a finely-tuned machine. One of Bosh’s 11 shots was a layup, another one an 8-footer, but the rest were from 18 feet away and farther. Wade’s shot selection was better, with half of them being around the basket, but he also benefited from a nice shooting night as he hit 50% of his jumpers. This team has good cohesion on D, but they still have a long way to go on the other end, and don’t let last night’s made jumpers fool you.
-Along those lines, don’t let LeBron’s final stats and phenomenal shooting last night fool you into thinking it was one of his great games. Yes, perhaps one of his more impressive ones, but he really only was brilliant in the third. There he hit an unbelievable 10-of-12, and 6-of-8 on long jumpers. But the old Cleveland version of LeBron, he would be phenomenal for four quarters. In lots of different ways. Chasing down blocks from behind, setting everyone up, huge rebounds, lock-down defense. Truth is, Blake Griffin had more amazing highlights the other day in his game against the Spurs. I’m not saying it’s all about highlights, but you can’t count on LBJ regularly shooting 75% on jumpers, particularly ‘cuz it wasn’t even like these were wide-open jumpers where Wade had caused the defense to collapse and then passed it out to James for a clean, easy look. This was more along the lines of the Jordan game where MJ hit so many threes that he shrugged.
Lots of times James got the ball, particularly in the first half, took a jab step or two, then just backed up and swung it to Wade so Dwayne could give it a try. He needs to go back to his old ways where he knew that if he didn’t create, chances are no one else on the team would. He needs to force that drive, and if the defense truly is set once he gets in the paint, then he passes it out at that time, having got the D to collapse. Eventually, he’ll get to that point in Miami. And eventually he and Wade will learn how to work really well off of each other and play some exciting basketball (they showed they could do it on Team USA). But unless one of them gets traded or injured, never again will we get to see LeBron having to create something 80% of the time down the court. Yes, some nights we will be witnesses when he’s feeling it, but other nights he’ll only have moments of greatness, mixed with nights of more-role-playing-likeness when Wade’s going off. There weren’t many nights when Jordan took a back-seat to Pippen or even went 50-50 with Scottie. MJ got to show his greatness every night. Remember when LeBron got to do that too?