There are some nights where LeBron James just has everything going and there is nothing the defense can do. Monday night against the Brooklyn Nets was one of those nights. LeBron tied his playoff career high with 49 points, needing only 24 field-goal attempts to get there.
He handled every type of coverage the Nets threw his way with stunning ease. When single-covered, he simply powered his way to the rim, where he made 11 of 12 attempts, according to NBA.com. When double- or triple-teamed, he either drove through and around multiple defenders or sucked the help in before expertly darting passes to his teammates spotted up around the perimeter.
Though he only tallied two assists, he collected two more "secondary assists," according to NBA.com's player tracking data provided by the SportVU cameras (installed in every NBA arena by STATS LLC), and even when he wasn't directly contributing to a basket, it was often happening only because of the sheer gravitational force his presence on the floor has on the defense.
Let's start early in the game, with LeBron catching the ball in the post against Shaun Livingston. As Shane Battier cuts across from the strong side to the weak side, the Nets begin to bend their defense to deal with LeBron's post opportunity.
Joe Johnson lops off Battier and lets him run free to the opposite side of the court while staying in the middle of the lane to keep an eye on LeBron. Paul Pierce brings an early double-team from the top side of LeBron's post-up, hoping to force the ball out of his hands before he can get a full head of steam and take Livingston to the rim.
The result of all this contorting is an open three from the corner for Chalmers, who shot 45.8 percent from that floor location this season, according to NBA.com. Pierce's double leaves Wade open near the top of the key, and when LeBron passes out of the trap, Wade draws in Williams and swings it to Battier on the wing. That leaves Johnson to defend both Battier and Chalmers by himself, and he has to deny the three-point shot.
Once it becomes clear that Johnson is leaning his way, Battier quickly pings the ball one more time into the corner, and Chalmers capitalizes by knocking down the open shot.
Later in the first quarter, the Nets get concerned with LeBron's ability to hurt them as the screener in a pick-and-roll look they had a whole lot of trouble stopping in Game 1. They actually send three guys after him as he rolls to the wing, which frees up Ray Allen to beat his man off the dribble and get a driving layup.
That's Alan Anderson guarding the ball-handler, Mario Chalmers, along with Mirza Teletovic guarding James and Andray Blatche, who leaves Chris Andersen on the weak side, all moving simultaneously to deny a post entry pass to LeBron on the deep wing.
When three players are guarding one, surely that leaves at least one teammate open, so Chalmers simply swings the ball around to Allen on the opposite wing, and when Livingston comes flying out to contest the three, Allen puts up a little pump fake and drives himself into the lane for a runner.
In the second quarter, we find LeBron dribbling himself into the post on the deep wing in delayed transition. Paul Pierce comes to help on the top side, so LeBron simply spins over his shoulder and into Johnson's chest to create separation, hits them both with a little up-and-under move and gets himself a layup.
At the time he starts his up-and-under, all five Nets have a foot in the paint, but it's no matter. He's too strong and too quick; none of the help affects him in any way.
Later in the game, while backing down Shaun Livingston from the mid-post area, LeBron again senses the help defense coming on the top side, this time from Deron Williams.
Before that help can get there, LeBron puts a spin move on Livingston and beats him with a baseline drive to the rim. Because Wade cut across the court from the right corner to the left, his defender, Paul Pierce, is unable to recover in time to seriously contest LeBron's shot.
On a similar-looking fourth-quarter post-up, the Nets send help both from the baseline—Shaun Livingston, who slides down off James Jones in the weak-side corner—and from the top side, Joe Johnson, abandoning Wade as he cuts from the strong side to the weak-side wing after making the entry pass.
Even Kevin Garnett drops way down into the paint off Chris Bosh to protect against a drive. As he does this, Bosh spots up along the wing, and Jones sneaks in behind Garnett to set a perfect flare screen, which frees Bosh for a three-point opportunity.
Bosh, who is shooting 44.8 percent from deep in the playoffs, uses the extra space to calmly bury the open look.
Bosh would wind up missing his next two three-point attempts, but that didn't stop the Heat from using him as a three-point release valve late in the game.
With the game tied and just over a minute to go, Erik Spoelstra calls for a high pick-and-roll between Wade and LeBron. This time, the Nets send two defenders after the ball-handler coming around the screen, which leaves LeBron open as he rolls into the paint.
"They kind of messed up the coverage, and Wade was able to hit me down the middle," LeBron said after the game of how the play started to unfold. "I was able to attack KG (Garnett), who came off of CB (Bosh), and I already knew exactly what was about to happen. I see KG rotating to me, so I spun in the paint, threw it to Rio (Chalmers), and I already knew it was going to find CB. And I knew [the shot] was going to be good from CB."
"There's a lot that goes through my mind during a basketball game," LeBron said. "Sometimes it gets me in trouble, because it's so much reading and reacting. Going through plays in my mind that haven't even happened yet." He continued, "People always talk about my basketball IQ. I don't really talk about it as much, but I see a lot going on in the game that I'm not sure if everyone sees."
That IQ and that vision is what allows him to see plays—like the go-ahead three for Bosh—unfold in his head before they happen. It's what allows him to pass out of post double-teams with the full confidence that the ball will be swung around, eventually find the open man and then the bottom of the hoop.
It's part of what's made him the best player in the world, and it's a large portion of what makes him so impossible to stop when he gets into a rhythm of scoring and passing and reading the defense like he did in Game 4.
All quotations obtained firsthand unless noted otherwise
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