Atlanta - Cavaliers fans, close your eyes and remember this - yet another night when LeBron James would not let your team lose. Remember how when the Cavs needed it the most, James dug deep into his knapsack of shots. It wasn't his dunks that grounded the Atlanta Hawks this night, it was his old-fashioned jump shots.
See James in the fourth quarter. See him give a head fake to the right, take a dribble to the left - and swish an 18-footer. See him take three dribbles to the right, a quick step back and drop in a 12-footer from the wing. See him look as if he were about to heave up a 3-pointer, only he took two fast dribbles to the basket . . . stopped . . . and made a sweet 15-footer from near the foul line.
Finally, see James dribble past three defenders who had no idea if he would stop and shoot . . . go left . . . go right. . . . Instead, he bulled his way to the rim for a layup.
See him do all this and more in the first eight minutes of the fourth quarter, setting up the Cavaliers' 97-82 victory at Atlanta, giving them a 3-0 lead in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinals.
See James finish with 47 points, one off his playoff career high. See him act like Philips Arena were his favorite concrete court in Akron, maybe at Perkins Park. It was him against the world, and the world had no chance.
We have seen games like this so often from James. . . . OK, maybe not quite like this, but close. . . . It's easy to take for granted the greatness of James the Basketball player.
And James knew it was a night when greatness was needed, a night when his Cavaliers teammates seemed a step slow on defense, a tick off when it came to getting open on offense. It was a night when the Atlanta Hawks were at home, dreaming of making this into a series.
For Atlanta, it was a night of too much James.
It was 15-of-25 from the field.
It was 5-of-10 on 3-pointers.
It was 12-of-16 at the foul line.
It was 12 rebounds, eight assists and only one turnover in 43 minutes of highlights.
It was James accounting for about two-thirds of his team's 97 points through his shooting and passing.
It was Cavs coach Mike Brown saying: "He took the ball. He put it in his hands and said he was going to score for us.
"I said that was OK. I told everyone else to defend."
Brown doesn't like to play this way. He is frustrated when his offense stalls, when the players aren't sure where to move - so they stand and watch. But he also likes to win, and he knows that some nights, you rely on greatness.
Yes, LeBron had help from his teammates, especially on defense in the second half - when the Cavs outscored the Hawks, 50-36, outrebounding Atlanta, 27-8, after the intermission.
Yes, it never hurts to have a gutsy guard like Delonte West - who will defend anyone in any backcourt on any given night - scoring 12 points in 45 minutes of sweat and determination. And the guard had zero turnovers.
Yes, it was a boost to see Zydrunas Ilgauskas get his jump shot in gear, scoring 14 points on 6-of-9 shooting.
But this night belonged to James, who has played 108 minutes in this series and scored 108 points. That's why Cavs fans can dream big, and why any team hates facing James any night, on any court.
The Cavs are now 7-0 in the playoffs, winning every game by double figures. But this was really the first time they have been tested. At the half, they were in front, 47-46.
"It was a big road win for us," said James. "It was good to face to adversity."
Especially when the other team has to face James, who has to be more than the league's MVP. He may be the MFP: Most Feared Player.
Consider how the Cavs are now 62-3 when they have a lead after three quarters.
That's right, 62-3 when leading after three quarters!
Now consider James. Consider greatness. Consider the memories he's making for every Cavaliers fan.
To reach Terry Pluto: email@example.com, 216-999-4674
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