LeBron James and What His Defensive Performance vs. the Thunder Means

Sammy BrownContributor IIIApril 6, 2012

LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 04: LeBron James #6 of the Miami Heat reacts during a loss to the Los Angeles Lakers at Staples Center on March 4, 2012 in Los Angeles, California.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Harry How/Getty Images

The Thunder vs. Heat game on Wednesday night was, for all intents and purposes, a playoff game. Before heading to the locker room for halftime, LeBron James even said so himself.

Here are a few things we learned from the game, a 98-93 Miami win:

  1. The Heat are the best team in the NBA and the team to beat come playoff time.
  2. LeBron James is the MVP of the 2011-12 season. End of discussion. And,
  3. We should all pray for these two teams to meet in the finals.

This game was just a joy to watch. We got to witness four of the top isolation scorers in the league all going at it. The Heat, who have lacked motivation at times this season, were playing with the utmost intensity (and when they do, is there a more fun team to watch?)

The chippiness made the game intriguing and clearly motivated the Heat—there were two flagrant fouls committed by the Thunder. But the chippiness wasn't contained to just the fouling. The physicality between LeBron and Kevin Durant was quiet, but constant all game. Skip Bayless tweeted,

KDurant tried to dribble through so many double-teams he had 9 turnovers. Rarely gets ball in advantageous spot. Last 2 shots poor forces.

— Skip Bayless (@RealSkipBayless) April 5, 2012


Can't argue with that observation, but, how did it even come to that? Durant never fails to put up big numbers, and always finds ways to get that silky shot off with good looks at the hoop.

The difference Wednesday (especially in comparison to the last game between these two in Oklahoma City, a 103-87 March 25 beatdown by OKC) was that LeBron simply refused to let KD get the ball in spots where he wanted it. He was constantly physically deterring Durant from getting to favorable spots on the floor. This clearly frustrated the OKC star, hence the turnovers and forced shots and plays.

We all know Skip Bayless would love to blame the Thunder's point guard for this, as well as their lack of team success for the loss versus Miami, but how about we give more than a little credit to LeBron?

How about we really consider the statistical phenomenon of 34 points, 10 assists, seven rebounds, and four steals? How about we actually give him some love for the part of his game people conveniently like to forget does not disappear in the fourth quarter of games: his stifling defense.

LeBron flat out owned from beginning to end, on both ends of the court against the Thunder, and he deserves some credit.