Paul Pierce asked for this. All of this.
The player who once was LeBron James’s greatest individual playoff challenge still possesses the mindset that he and the four-time MVP are on an equal playing field. Thus why it was no surprise that he actually wanted to defend LeBron, embracing the challenge that he had met so many times before.
Chalk another one up in the win column for LeBron, who scored over 40 points on Pierce in the playoffs for a third time. It could have also been the first time he dropped 50 in the playoffs, but he missed the second end of a pair of free throws in the final seconds.
Nevertheless, LeBron’s 49 points on only 24 shots, but with 19 free throw attempts, was enough to propel the Heat to an arduous 102-96 victory. Even with James tying his career-high in the playoffs, matching the 49 he scored in Game 1 against Orlando back in 2009, the Heat battled the Nets throughout, and appeared destined for a second consecutive loss.
LeBron put up 49 because he had no choice. His teammates let him down at nearly every facet of the game, and he had no choice but to be aggressive, on just about every possession, if the Heat were to escape from New York with a 3-1 series lead heading back to Miami.
But when desperation truly began to set in, it was everyone but LeBron leading the Heat to victory.
After the squads exchanged misses leading into the final minute, LeBron, as he had been attempting to do all game, kicked it out to an open Chris Bosh in the corner. 1-for-5 from three at that point, Bosh rose, shot, and watched the dagger fall, giving the Heat a 97-94 lead with 57 seconds left.
LeBron, who was forced to play with five fouls for the final four minutes, then forced Joe Johnson into a miss. On the following possession, LeBron would experience one of his rare misses, but the rebound would be scooped up by Dwyane Wade, who had been a liability for most of the fourth quarter.
It was also satisfying to see the Heat actually get the benefit of an offensive rebound. Although they finished with seven of their own, they gave up 14 to the Nets, leading to a season-high 21 second-chance points.
The offensive rebound occurred with 24 seconds left, leading to the Nets having to foul. Ray Allen would make both free throws, and then two more a few seconds later after Mirza Teletovic cut the Heat lead back to three with seven seconds left.
Notice how we haven’t had to mention Teletovic too much? The sudden reincarnation of Reggie Miller faced the type of defense that would cause him to miss all three of his three-point attempts and score only four points; a defense that actually has a hand in his face.
The law of averages existing was also a big help, for the whole team really. After shooting 15-for-25 from three the game before, a season-high three-point percentage, the Nets made only five of their 22 attempts, barely eclipsing the 20% mark.
There certainly was a greater emphasis on the defensive end to prevent the Nets from having another field day from beyond the arc. While they were rewarded with 44 points in the paint and 28 free throws, the Heat appeared to be more willing to give up the layup than the three.
Miami, with the exception of LeBron, was a struggle to watch for most of the contest. They shot 41% on uncontested shots, including a combined 2-for-10 between Ray Allen, Rashard Lewis, Norris Cole and James Jones, and gave little to LeBron in the form of support.
Wade scored 15 points on 7-for-13 shooting, but nearly cost Miami the game with two uncharacteristic turnovers in the final minutes.
Bosh, who finished with 12 on nine shots, struggled to keep Brooklyn’s geriatrics and bench stars off the glass, aiding in allowing Kevin Garnett to grab seven rebounds in 25 minutes, and Andray Blatche to grab eight rebounds in 23 minutes.
Bosh could only boast five rebounds of his own. But it’s all forgotten and forgiven because, you know, clutch shots and all that. He actually made both of his threes in the final six minutes of the fourth.
But the story here is about LeBron. Once again, with the Heat needing everything they could ask from their leader, he delivered, scoring too much in a game where his teammates were almost too little, too late.
He was a force from the start. Putting his head down with a mental determination and physical grit that only he can deliver, James attacked Brooklyn’s defense that was specifically designed to keep him out of the paint where he scored a majority of his 49 points.
He led the Heat in scoring in every quarter, obviously, and his 15 in the third quarter was a necessity to keep his team afloat, what with his teammates combining to score eight points in the same frame.
After hitting a layup with 9:30 left, nobody else on the team would score until Ray Allen’s three-pointer with 2:47 left, nearly seven minutes later. LeBron had scored all 13 of Miami’s points within the span.
By the end of the third, LeBron had outscored his teammates 40-39.
Fortunately, once the fourth quarter rolled around, there was more support. LeBron still needed to score nine points, but he was supported by Bosh’s two three-pointers, Ray’s perfect free throw shooting, and a three by Mario Chalmers.
We’re going to hear the Heat-Cavs comparisons, but it shouldn’t be anything new to any of us. We heard the same story back in 2012 when the Heat were down 3-2 to Boston, in 2013 when LeBron was battling Indiana without much help from Wade or Bosh, and we’ll hear it today, marring the focus that should be on the sustainable dominance of LeBron.
Through eight playoff games, LeBron is averaging 30.1 points on 58% shooting. In case you worry about fatigue, his minutes per game is actually the lowest it’s ever been.
It doesn’t make it right, regardless, but who cares because this is awesome:
And Mario Chalmers dunked. Also awesome: