Whatever happens in Game 6 of the NBA Finals—be it Draymond Green returning to the court to punch everyone’s dicks off, the Cavs getting blown out while Kevin Love flees the arena like Jerry Lundegaard, or Steph Curry turning in another relative clunker—at least we got an iconic LeBron James performance out of Game 5.
Yes, Kyrie Irving was playing with auto-aim turned on and deserves plenty of shine for his 41 points on 24 shots, but I’m here for LeBron. His 41-16-7 was a punch in the face to anyone who may have forgotten that LeBron James, now 31 years old and carrying more miles than the car you bought for $800 when you were 17, is still LeBron James.
James’s greatness has expressed itself in a variety of ways throughout his career, and what was particularly fun about last night’s game was that he played all the hits. There were unstoppable drives to the rim that recalled his 48-point destruction of the Pistons, pure jumpers that felt imported from Game 7 against the Spurs, and brawny challenges at the rim that reminded me of his destruction of Tiago Splitter. But most of all, it was a callback to his unrelenting assault on the Celtics in Game 6 of the 2012 Eastern Conference finals. James was a predator in that game, and he was one once again last night:
See that face James made after bolting past Marreese Speights and jamming through the contact? That’s the face a person sees right before they are eaten by a shark.
And yes, Draymond Green’s absence had a lot to do with James’s ability to get wherever he wanted to on the court, but slapping 41-16-7 on the table during a road elimination game is not something that can be even partially written off. If this performance felt surprising or out of the ordinary, it’s only because the NBA’s spotlight has perhaps moved off James faster than it should have.
It’s weird to think of a guy who can still do the things James can do, a guy who has been to the last six NBA Finals, as someone who can be overshadowed, but that’s what happens when the other best player in the world decides to rewrite the physical laws of the game and lead his team to a 73-win season. It was downright strange to see the greatest player of this generation, heading into a Finals elimination game, getting openly clowned by opponents and pundits alike. Skip Bayless and Smash Mouth(!) were out here just straight-up calling LeBron James a “bitch.”
I suppose to some extent, it’s always been like this for James. The conversation around him has a peculiar tendency to twist and fold in on itself until it has basically nothing to do with his ability as a player. The great thing about him is that he’s always been able to do things on the court that silence the din just as it starts to become too much to bear. Nobody can talk about what a crybaby James is or isn’t this morning, because 41-16-7 won’t let them. All you can do is look at those numbers and say, “Jesus Christ, that’s a great basketball player.”