LeBron James pulled out one of the all-time great playoff performances in NBA history on Thursday evening. Now, before fans of Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant (and Larry Bird and Magic Johnson, etc.) chime in that LeBron has yet to win a title, they are right. However, even LeBron’s greatest critics have to acknowledge his performance in Game 6 was nothing short of incredible.
Most impressive to this viewer was the resolve seen in James’ eyes from the outset. It was a focus seen so often in Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant. Although I have long felt LeBron is the best player in the world, he has seemingly lacked the chip to take over games when fans want it most. Some of this may be a flaw, and some of it may be LeBron’s desire to make the right play, even if that means letting lesser players take big shots.
So what did he do? 19-26 from the field. 30 points in the first half, and most important a blowout victory on the road in a game that would have ended the Heat season. 45 points, 15 rebounds, and 5 assists, numbers exceeded only once in playoff history (by Wilt Chamberlain).
So far in these playoffs, in the two games they needed most (down 2-1 to Indiana and down 3-2 to Boston), LeBron has averaged 42.5 points, 16.5 rebounds, and 7 assists. Pretty good numbers for a choke artist. Pretty amazing numbers even for the best player in the world.
Now, LeBron may not have a stellar game 7, or the Heat may lose in the Finals, or they may go on to win the title. Keep in mind, everyone has an off night, evidenced by Paul Pierce’s 4-18 shooting tonight, or his two points and three fouls in the first half as he struggled to guard James. Everyone has ups and downs during the course of a game, evidenced by Rajon Rondo’s 19 first half points and only 2 second half points.
What impressed me most about James was his unparalleled focus during tonight’s game. Dwayne Wade said, “He played amazing. He was locked in from the beginning of the game like I've never seen him before. The shots James made were unbelievable. He really put on an MVP performance tonight." James appeared to have a calmness about him tonight, along with a steely look in his eyes that was unwavering in its focus. It was as if we saw him demand the stage to excel to silence all of his critics. The Heat may lose Game 7, or, this game may be seen as one of the watershed moments in his career.
Watch James’ eyes in Game 7. If he finds the same zone, focuses solely on the task at hand, has no distractions, and seizes the ball and the moment, we may witness the next step in the evolution of the greatest player in the world.