Add late-game closer to the growing list of roles that LeBron James is proving to his critics that he's more than capable of filling.
With the Miami Heat once again spending the night on cruise control against an inferior opponent Wednesday night (in this case, the Orlando Magic), James showed why that's not the same disastrous approach for Miami that it is for so many other teams.
As Miami gave back all of its 15-point halftime lead, the team remained calm. It knew it had a closer lurking in the shadows, even if analysts are hesitant to give James that title.
James entered the fourth quarter with just 17 points, but wasted little time making an impact, scoring on the first possession after checking in at the 8:11 mark. He went on to play nearly three minutes without attempting a shot before working his way to the charity stripe with 4:50 left in regulation.
He scored Miami's next five points, trimming a four-point deficit to one over the next 60 seconds. The teams spent the next few minutes trading buckets, with Orlando's Jameer Nelson giving his side a three-point edge with a fade-away jumper with just over 90 seconds left on the clock.
A pair of Chris Bosh free throws cut that lead to one with 38 ticks left, and James' rebound of an errant three-ball attempt from Al Harrington gave the Heat the final possession...and a chance to extend their franchise-best winning streak to 16 games.
James got the ball on Miami's last possession, and a screen from Bosh earned him a one-on-one matchup with Orlando rookie DeQuan Jones. Jones gave James a shocking amount of space, but it still wasn't enough to stay in front after a rapid between-the-legs crossover from James.
James drove around Jones to his left, no help defense came over and "The King" finished the drive with a soft lefty lay-up with just three seconds remaining.
An errant desperation shot from Arron Afflalo was off the mark, and the Heat survived with a 96-95 win.
The basket gave him 26 points on the night—his 36th game this season with at least 25 points.
It also gave him the third-most clutch points (games within five points in the final five minutes) in the NBA with 117 (via NBA.com). He's one of just five players in the league's top 20 clutch scorers shooting better than 46 percent in those situations.
If James fades when the lights get brighter in the final 12 minutes, he's got a funny way of showing it. He's averaging six points during the game's final period.
Naturally, the MVP front-runner is connecting on 53.2 percent of his field goals and 39.6 percent of his long-range attempts in the fourth quarter. Even when he's not the one taking the shot, he's put Miami in prime position to win with 26 assists to just five turnovers in clutch situations.
He has 37 more assists (92) and 17 more rebounds (103) in the fourth quarter than any of his Miami teammates. Since the start of 2013, he's ramped up his fourth quarter field-goal success rate to a blistering 57.6 percent.
With Dwyane Wade and Ray Allen flanking him, James doesn't have to be the consistently taking big shots.
But considering that every time the ball leaves his hand it's covered in gold, it's hard to argue with any of his decisions anymore.
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