Before last night's Game 4 between the Nets and Heat, Paul Pierce announced that he would be guarding LeBron James. It was an inspired bit of gamesmanship from the wily veteran. The likely idea was to get LeBron thinking about all those Celtics teams that stifled him in the playoffs—I'm an old dog, but I know your tricks. But veteran savvy and familiarity can only take one so far, and neither can do much to slow down a bulldozer.
That's exactly what LeBron was last night. He trampled Pierce and the rest of the Nets roster on his way to 49 points on 16-of-24 shooting. He took 12 shots at the rim, making 11 of them, and earned himself 19 trips to the free-throw line. Those are the kinds of stats that are born out of one guy physically overpowering an entire team.
Poor Paul Pierce never even really got much of a chance to check LeBron. Early in the first quarter, LeBron cut to the basket from the right wing, received a pass from Mario Chalmers, and came bearing down on Pierce in the lane. Pierce did everything right, leaping straight up into the air to contest LeBron's layup attempt. LeBron went right into Pierce's chest, drawing a foul and sending Pierce flailing and stumbling across the lane as if he'd just taken a Bruce Lee kick to the chest—here is where we pause to remember that Pierce, at 6-foot-7 and 235 lbs., is not a small man. This play was an omen of things to come for Pierce, who spent the entire game bullied into foul trouble by LeBron and unable to do much of anything on the defensive end.
Thanks to his foul trouble, it wasn't just Pierce that caught a beating from LeBron. My two favorite plays from last start at the 1:13 mark of the video above. On the first, LeBron drives on Mirza Teletovic and stops on a dime in the lane. Poor Mirza, who didn't even get bumped that hard, goes flying into the air and backward a good three feet, seemingly knocked off course by the sheer force of LeBron's movements. On the next play, LeBron goes right at Andray Blatche—that poor, poor bastard—and does the exact same thing, popping into his chest and sending him windmilling past the basket. Again, we pause to remember that Teletovic and Blatche are very large and heavy men.
There's almost a slapstick quality to plays like these. When LeBron's throwing his weight and talent around like this, his defenders adopt the exaggerated flailing of Curly after catching a slap from Moe. The only difference is that Teletovic, Pierce, and Blatche weren't in on the joke last night. They were just getting whooped by a force of nature.