With Bosh out of the lineup to witness the birth of his third child, the Miami Heat needed the star forward to rise to the occasion and help take down the Toronto Raptors. And just as he's always done when the team needs something more out of him, LeBron delivered, this time with 35 points, eight rebounds and eight assists in the 104-95 victory.
Up to this point in the 2013-14, LeBron had been great. But he hadn't been LeBron James.
Entering the game against Toronto, the reigning MVP was sporting averages of 23.3 points, 5.0 rebounds, 8.0 assists and one steal per contest while shooting 55.7 percent from the field, 53.3 percent from downtown and 73.9 percent at the charity stripe. Impressive numbers, but hardly ones representative of the Herculean efforts we've witnessed in the past from James.
So much for that.
Knowing that his team needed something extra because Bosh wasn't there, LeBron came out firing. For the first time this season, he was aggressive from the opening tip, shooting 5-of-6 in the first quarter while pulling down two boards and two assists.
If you're looking for one play to sum up the entire first quarter, that would be it.
The Heat struggled to control Jonas Valanciunas and were just demolished on the glass, but they still got out and ran. And when his teammates couldn't get it done, LeBron cleaned up the trash.
Literally, in this case.
He also created plenty of opportunities for his teammates, like this easy bucket he set up for Chris "Birdman" Andersen:
But more than anything else, it was his attacking mentality that did the trick early on. LeBron knew that the Heat needed an interior presence while Bosh was in absentia, and he acted accordingly. In that first quarter, all six of his field-goal attempts came in the paint, and he put together a nice encore in the second period. Five trips to the free-throw line were the result.
That aggression is the true key for LeBron. If he's attacking the basket with relentless fury, he's as unstoppable as a basketball player can get, and the Heat generally tend to come out on the positive end of things.
Take a look at his shot distribution throughout the season:
And now, compare that to his attempts against Toronto:
Which looks better?
The answer should be quite clear, as LeBron decided that he was a homing missile with a target set on the rim against the Raptors. Not only did he end up recording a season-high 35 points, but he did so while shooting 65 percent from the field.
Impressive as he may be at hitting mid-range jumpers, those are the most inefficient shots on the court. It's far better that LeBron puts his head down and attacks the basket, especially as he did late in the game when he emphatically drew an and-one.
In many ways, that was the clear-cut play of the game against Toronto, and it effectively served as a microcosm of LeBron's overall performance. With Toronto cutting the lead to six points—still in striking distance with two minutes left in the game—the MVP decided that it was time to take over.
So take over he did.
Was this whole passing to his teammates thing going to get in the way? No, although he probably would have hit an open man if he needed to. Were the Toronto Raptors going to stand in his path? They could try, and they'd fail.
The man is a physical specimen. He's one of the most athletic basketball players of all time (and depending on how you feel about Wilt Chamberlain, you may even want to go ahead and give him the superlative), and his physical dominance is readily apparent whenever he steps onto the hardwood.
As Shane Battier told the Associated Press after the game (via ESPN), "You don't really see the work he puts in, not only on his game but his body, to keep himself at the highest level in the world."
But above all else, LeBron is always looking.
As an anonymous cameraman in the Air Canada Centre told the National Post's Bruce Arthur, noticing that LeBron's vision darted back and forth across the court at all times, "It’s like his eyes were running. I never noticed it with anybody else. Just him.”
But this looking isn't just true in a literal sense. He's always looking for the best plays to make, the best shots to take and the best decisions that he can execute upon. More than anything else, though, he's looking for the ways in which he can get better.
Without Bosh in the lineup, especially against a team that featured a host of physical big men like Valanciunas, Amir Johnson and Tyler Hansbrough, he had a chance to prove that he was still improving.
And that's exactly what he did.
Despite the fact that he was down the team's starting center and facing Dwayne Casey, the creator of the defense that tortured him in the 2011 NBA Finals and led to plenty of questions about his "clutch factor," LeBron was dominant. He was everything that Miami needed him to be.
Again. Just as he has been ever since bowing out against the Dallas Mavericks. And just as he'll continue to function throughout the foreseeable future.
Despite what some would lead you to believe—and "some" here would probably be comprised of the remaining spurned and bitter Cleveland Cavaliers fans who still have vitriol coursing through their veins in lieu of blood—LeBron hasn't just been one of the most clutch basketball players in recent memory; he's been the most clutch.
You can find a full breakdown of the crunch-time numbers here, or you can just keep watching him add to the collection of evidence on a nightly basis. On Nov. 5, he stepped up against the Raptors and kept the Heat undefeated over the last two years when Bosh was out of the lineup.
Now we get to find out what comes next.
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