LeBron James Masterful as Cavs Take 3-1 Lead Over Bulls
Then he went out and played like it was more than that important. And in doing so he deflated the hopes of a team and its fans.
James has had some outstanding games, but it would be tough to find one better than Sunday's. His triple-double led the way as the Cavs handily won Game 4. The 121-98 win sends the Cavs back to Cleveland up 3-1 with a chance to end the series Tuesday night.
James did everything. In the first quarter he shot four times and scored five points, but finished with four assists and five rebounds. By the end of the third quarter, he had 28 points and was one rebound from a triple double. By game's end he had 37, 12 and 11.
"It's what this man is capable of doing," coach Mike Brown said.
"It's nothing new for me, I've been watching it all year," Cavs guard Anthony Parker said. "But he just continues to amaze."
"He does everything, man," forward Antawn Jamison said.
And to think he left for the locker room at the beginning of the second quarter for a few minutes with a sore elbow -- a product of the wear and tear of a season. James pretty much started the day with a sore attitude. He was not pleased with his team's effort and approach in Game 3, and he let everyone know before the game.
"He didn't want us to play another game like that," said forward Jamario Moon.
Which is why he said he was proudest of the mental aspect of the win.
"For me changing my game it wasn't about on the court, it was about preparation," he said. "Mentally being prepared for what's going on throughout the course of the game, every second, every minute.
"Taking one game at a time. Knowing that Game 1 was the most important game. Game 2 was the most important game. Game 3. And today (Game) 4 was the most important game of our season.
"I think stepping up my game on the court, I think I've done that a little bit. But I'm supposed to be effective on the court. But the intangible things that you guys don't always see are raising our team."
Two years ago the Cavs led a playoff series against Washington 3-1, but blew a chance at home to close out the series. James went to D.C. and had a 27-point, 13-rebound, 13-assist effort in a Game 6 win that was notable because of his calm, patient approach. He played the same way Sunday in Chicago.
"I knew he was in the zone," Jamison said. "He was really focused."
James was precise and pretty close to unstoppable. He started by finding his teammates, and ended by scoring, making 11 of his 17 shots (and 9-of-10 free throws). He ended the second and third quarters with emphasis.
His 22-foot jumpshot closed out the half and gave the Cavs a 10-point lead. His three at the end of the third quarter came from midcourt and ended as good a period as the Cavs have played in a long time (37 points, 12-of-18 from the floor). James took the three from just inside the half-court line, and as it flew toward the basket the horn went off. It swished with the lights on around the backboard.
"I can comfortably shoot that shot," James said. "From probably half-court or beyond. Comfortably. It was a regular jumpshot, for me."
In the fourth quarter James made three threes in a row -- including one from the top of the circle that banked in. When he plays like he did on Sunday, the Cavs become very, very tough to beat. He plays with a calm and an approach that opens up the entire floor.
In a game when James scored 37, the Cavs had 121 -- an unusually high number for a defense-first team. Five players hit double figures. The Cavs scored 99 points the first three quarters. When James is balanced and involving everyone, the Cavs become more balanced and take advantage of all their players.
For what it's worth, James has scored 40 or more points in a playoff game nine times. The Cavs are 5-4 in those games. They have had six playoff games when James has a triple-double. In those games, the Cavs are unbeaten. Even James hinted it was one of his favorites.
"I think because it's now, it's in the present," he said. "I've done some things in the past. I'm going to do some great things in the future. But we're in the present now, and I'm feeling pretty good from how well we played today."