LeBron James, ladies and gentlemen.
On a day where he received virtually no help until the final minute of Game 4 of the Miami Heat's second-round series against the Brooklyn Nets, James carried the Heat to a 102-96 victory. He ended up with an astounding stat line of 49 points, six rebounds, three steals and two assists.
Brooklyn fought an uphill battle the entire contest and actually had a lead in the final quarter, but Miami made the critical plays down the stretch. Not to be overlooked in James' brilliance was the backbreaking three-pointer that Chris Bosh drilled to give Miami the lead in the final minute.
The storyline to watch heading into the game was the head-to-head matchup between James and Paul Pierce. Bleacher Report noted that Pierce was not afraid of the challenge:
Kevin Garnett also helped set the stage after Game 3, telling reporters, "I think this is a must-win coming up Monday. If we want to give ourselves any type of room ... any type of chance, I think that we've definitely got to take care of home."
That lack of fear on Brooklyn's side translated to some physical and emotional play in the early going. The NBA on TNT and Rod Boone of Newsday highlighted the initial proceedings:
Despite the physical play, Miami seized an early lead behind plays like this:
Bleacher Report's Ethan J. Skolnick summed up the first-quarter trouble for the Nets:
Things seemed to get worse at the start of the second quarter when Deron Williams picked up his third personal foul, but Tim Bontemps of the New York Post suggested that Jason Kidd made the right decision to leave his point guard in the game. The Nets went on a run and actually took the lead shortly after D-Will's third foul:
Skolnick noted that the Nets defense was giving Miami trouble in the second quarter:
However, Mr. James re-entered the game after a brief break and turned the tide, via the Miami Heat's Twitter page, the NBA on TNT and Bontemps:
Perhaps recognizing an opportunity to take a commanding 3-1 lead in the series, James was clearly engaged in this one. The Heat took a 56-49 lead into intermission thanks to his incredible performance, as the Heat, ESPN and Tim Reynolds of The Associated Press highlighted:
After halftime, James continued his offensive rampage, but the Nets were able to match the energy level and cut into the lead. SportsNation pointed out that Garnett had something to do with it:
Even with an inspired run to cut the lead to one, James was simply too much for the Nets through the first three quarters, and Miami had a 79-76 lead entering the final frame. Shandel Richardson of the South Florida Sun Sentinel put it in perspective:
The Nets' persistence finally paid off at the start of the fourth quarter when they took an 82-79 lead. The NBA captured Pierce's dunk that put the crowd in a frenzy:
Skolnick pointed out who needed to come up big for Miami and help James after Brooklyn seized momentum:
The teams went back and forth for most of the fourth quarter, trading blows and leads. Both Pierce and James came through with a number of clutch baskets.
All James was doing was setting franchise records in the process, via SportsCenter:
However, a fairly significant development occurred with just more than two minutes remaining:
Even though James was in foul trouble, the game was tied at 94 with 1:15 remaining, and then Chris Bosh drilled a backbreaking three-pointer to give the Heat the lead for good. The entire defense collapsed on James, leaving Bosh wide open for the shot in the corner.
Ray Allen clinched it with two pairs of free throws, and Miami took a commanding 3-1 lead in the series.
Game 5 is Wednesday back in Miami, but this series is as close to over as it can possibly be.
The Nets left everything on the line on their home court Monday and still came up short against James and company. It was the type of disheartening loss that is nearly impossible to recover from in terms of a mental standpoint in the postseason.
If there is one positive to take away from this game for Brooklyn, it is that nobody on the Heat played particularly well except for James, but his individual brilliance was just enough.
The lack of help for James may be a problem in later rounds against better teams, but it won't be against the Nets.