An NBA Regular Season Game Actually Felt Important

Yes, there were the subplots, and there were an awful lot of them. But mostly it was two players who made the game feel like it mattered, because they matter, and because it mattered to them.

LeBron, playing perhaps his most complete game of the season. The points yes, the rebounds yes, but most importantly the 9 assists: well more than anyone in either jersey. This is LeBron's "win" mode. Letting someone else, in this case a Chris Bosh with something to prove, attack the basket while you do the dirty work like keeping him fed and grabbing boards on the other end and setting the pick that springs Wade for the decisive layup. Deferring: it's an option LeBron never had before coming to Miami, and intriguingly might be the one best suited to win this year. Because the truth is that he might not be the pure volume scorer of Dwyane Wade or Carmelo Anthony or even Kobe. But he's the best all-around basketball player of his prime, and we're realizing that he might have wasted the beginning of that prime in Cleveland.

Kobe too, wanted this one. Complaining about the refs. On the floor shooting jumpers for more than an hour after the game. These are signs he cared. He was pushing himself, something we don't always get every night of his 15th season in the league. You could see it in the swagger when he hit the three to tie it up for the last time. In his frustration when he was unable to keep a lead through the fourth. In his disbelief when he had the ball stolen to set up the Heat's go-ahead bucket, an exclamation point of a dunk by LeBron.

It's a small sample size but a season sweep for the Heat, and would make for a fascinating Finals matchup.

The eras of the NBA are defined in shorthand by the most influential, fascinating, figures of the period. There's a seamless (and greatly simplified) flow of league history from Wilt to Kareem to Magic and Bird to Jordan to Kobe to, yes, LeBron.

To become the go-to name that retrospectively defines your era, it helps to be the best and most important player of your prime. It also helps to be known by one name.