Thursday, May 28, 2009

The King Has One Royal Game As Cavs Stay Alive

Excuse the corniness, but I was looking for something witty to use as a title.  

There are very few players who, when called upon to be the deciding factor in their team's fate, can actually deliver consistently.  LeBron James is, without a doubt, one of those chosen few who can, in fact, take over a game all by himself.  In the fourth quarter alone, the man had 17 points and four assists.  I won't make any assumptions, but if The King has anything to do with it, this series is going back to Cleveland for a Game Seven.

Perhaps you remember that Game Five two years ago.  The game that LeBron finally lived up to his royal nickname and played himself into the history books as the best player of his generation.  The main criticism of James to that point was that he mailed it in.  He had two different gears.  Sometimes he would be the greatest player on the court, and other times, he would just sort of sleepwalk through games.  For some reason in that series, everything changed.  LeBron suddenly realized his potential and, in one of the greatest individual performances in NBA history, single-handedly demolished the Pistons, scoring 29 of Cleveland's last 30, and the final 25 points, en route to a two-overtime win.  I, just like everyone else, was in awe.  It was a once-in-a-lifetime performance, maybe once-in-a-century.  Jordan and Wilt took over games with finesse.  Kobe can do similarly.  But nobody- and I mean NOBODY- can take over a game physically like LeBron James can.  It's a sight to behold, and once again tonight, just like that evening two years ago, I have no words to truly describe the type of game I just witnessed.

Enough of the LeBron homerism however.  As much as his triple-double, and huge fourth quarter carried the Cleveland Cavaliers to a win they had to have, you can't forget the contributions from his teammates in this game, who were MIA up until this point.  Mo Williams put up 24 points tonight, the first time he scored over 20 in the series.  Zydrunas Ilgauskas scored 16 points, the most he's had this entire playoffs.  Daniel Gibson came up huge with three three-pointers, the first time I've really heard his name called in weeks.  Yes, LeBron is the star here, but like I said two nights ago, he can't do it all on his own.  He has the ability to carry a team if necessary, but he can't be expected to do it game in and game out without some help.  Cavs coach Mike Brown talked about an unexpected guy stepping up late.  This game, that surprise was Gibson.  Next game, it could be anyone else, I'm sure.

Though the overall numbers aren't staggering, you've also got to love the defensive intensity and rebounding by the Cavs in the deciding fourth quarter.  The quarter started as somewhat of a disaster mirroring the previous two stanzas, poor shooting, defensive lapses, and an inability to capitalize on second-chance opportunities.  Around the six-minute mark however, things changed.  Cleveland began to capitalize on Orlando Magic turnovers, draw smart fouls, and take care of the ball.  LeBron, in particular, employed some real heads-up play on the boards, creating more scoring chances that ultimately led to them taking the lead for good.  The entire  team, but specifically James, also did a great job of spreading the ball around and catching the open man, for a total of 21 assists.  As I said two days ago, multiple players would have to become a factor for the Cavs to claim a victory in Game Five, and the results showed how much better they are when they're not a one-man show.

Going into Game Six, the pressure is still on Cleveland, specifically LeBron's supporting cast, to get it done.  For the most part, Orlando has played a fairly complete style of basketball, using some real tight defense to force the ball to the perimeter, and not allowing James to run roughshod in the paint.  They've had some real clutch shooters, and if not for some unfortunate cold streaks in Game Five, could have pulled it out.  The Cavaliers, on the other hand, still have adjustments that must be made.  Once again, they were up big (22 in this one) before letting it all slip away, and eventually playing from behind.  They need to find a way to translate that initial intensity into game-long success, and if that means spreading minutes out more, and keeping everyone a bit fresher for the home stretch, so be it.  I'll tell you this: If Game Six comes down to LeBron having to carry Cleveland on his back again like he did in the first four contests, the Cavs will ultimately fail.  Perhaps they've learned their lesson, and are refocused.  We won't know, though, until they get back to Orlando.

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