40 Points. 18 Rebounds. 9 Assists. 2 blocks. 2 steals.
That’s the sound of LeBron James making history yet again by becoming the first player in over 51 years to have at least 40 points, 18 rebounds and 9 assists in an NBA Playoff game. The last player to do so? Elgin Baylor on March 14, 1961 when the Los Angeles Lakers hosted the Detroit Pistons in Game 1 of their first round Western Conference series.
However, the absurdity of LeBron James’ historically great performance goes beyond the linear boxscore measurement. Deep beneath the blinding surface of his impossible-to-ignore numbers lay dormant a story that is unique to perhaps only King James himself. A story that, dependent on his success or failure over the remainder of the post-season, may well be lost to the pages of history: LBJ is being relied upon more than ever.
The construction of Miami’s infamous super team brought with it an unprecedented amount of criticism, hate, and expectation. The expectation being that it should now be near impossible for James to be unsuccessful. Teaming up alongside another offensive powerhouse in Dwyane Wade, as well as the more than offensively adept Chris Bosh, meant [in theory] that James was going to be able to lower his responsibility and therefore decrease his energy expenditure whilst maintaining or improving his already other worldly efficiency and effectiveness.
While things didn’t quite come to fruition during their first season together, that original hypothesis rang true for much of the 2012 regular season. Coach Spoelstra was able to limit LeBron’s minutes to a respectable 37.5MPG despite ‘Bron playing 13 games (19.6% of the season) without the team’s second best player in D-Wade. His efficiency reverted to the stratospheric level that NBA fans were accustomed to and as a result was fittingly awarded his 3rd MVP award in 4 years.
The playoffs however - thanks much in part to the lower abdominal injury suffered by Chris Bosh - are proving to be something more of a wormhole back to his days in Cleveland. LeBron James is carrying a load so large, so astronomical, so preposterous right now that there may not be a player in the history of the game who has ever had to do quite this much.
When Baylor dropped his black & white 40, 18 and 9 all of those 51 years ago, his Los Angeles Lakers accounted for a team total of 120 points. Contrast this to today, and Miami managed a meager 101 points by comparison [their opponents were 102 and 92, respectively]. So in a league that shot a far lower percentage on average and had no 3 point line, it’s no stretch of the imagination to say that the game Elgin competed in had a lot more opportunity to rack up statistics.
Yet every single statistic that LeBron James racked up today was a needed one. Game 4 was irrefutably the most crucial of the Playoffs thus far, and considering what it would mean for the Heat and ‘Bron if they were to lose to the Pacers in the second round, may well have been the most critical game of LeBron’s post-season career yet. There was no coming back if they slipped 3-1. Battier knew this. Wade knew this. James definitely knew this.
So in a series that has seen LeBron play the Power Forward position and guard positions 1-5 (Yes… 1-5), tonight’s game proved to be the forum in which he made possibly his greatest, most believable statement yet: I refuse to go down like a chump.
By the end of the game, LeBron had accounted for an insane 40% of his team’s points, 38% of his team’s rebounds, and 45% of his team’s assists. Comparatively, Elgin’s 40 were worth just one third of his team’s points.
The insanity, however, is as much in the load that LeBron is needing to carry as it is with how historic the numbers are. In post-game question time James alluded to the fact that he came into the game with the mindset that he would “play 48 minutes, 55 if it came down to it”. As formidable and admirable as that mind state may be, it’s one that need not exist in the second round of the playoffs.
Point blank and straight up, LeBron James’ supporting cast needs to step the fuck up. Shane Battier, James Jones, and Mike Miller (Haslem too, until today) have fallen so far off of the face of the Earth that NASA wouldn’t be able to locate them. They couldn’t hit an open shot if they were given a shotgun 1 foot infront of a soda can.
Thankfully, Spoelstra heard the sentiments of people like myself (at least, that’s what we like to tell ourselves) following Game 3 in regards to the Heat needing more screens and off-ball movement. It served them well today, particularly in defeating the versatile perimeter defense from the likes of Paul George. Spoelstra has made adjustments, Wade has faced his adversity and come out on top, and James is playing like the James of old. Now, it’s time for the rest of the roster to step up and do their jobs, or the future in Miami is going to be very bleak.
James may be the greatest athlete the game of basketball has ever seen. He may well be the greatest natural raw talent the game has ever seen. But no matter the amount of strength, speed, quickness, stamina, and skill that he possesses - the responsibility and load that he holds upon his shoulders right now is nothing more than a recipe for disaster once the season gets deeper, the games get tougher and the clutch gets clutcher. No man in the game is capable of carrying the responsibility that James is. No man has the talent and/or physical ability to have it asked of him, much less carry it out. But make no mistake, not even LeBron James can continue this without faulting.
The late Chick Hearn once pondered while bearing witness to the all-around greatness of Grant Hill dropping a triple double against his Lakers: “What more can one guy do for a team!?”.
Well Chick, if you’re still watching… I’d say you’ve got your answer.