It was a look of focus and determination—not the traits associated with late-game LeBron James.
But there it was—just over 40 seconds were left in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semifinals when James hit a three-pointer to give the Miami Heat a 93-87 lead over the Boston Celtics. The maligned star saw the shot go in, and may have seen his teammates prance back up the court, hearing the crowd erupt.
LeBron did not join in. He stood still, looking straight ahead, eyes wide, mouth open, breathing deeply. He looked lost, confused, disinterested—heard that before?
That wasn't the case as he stood there in the final minute of the latest Celtic reign. He was in the middle of scoring 10 straight points to finish off Boston. This wasn't "Quitness," the fraud who single-handedly extinguished a competitive series against the Celtics last year when his Cleveland Cavalier teammates begged for help. He wasn't lost, and he certainly wasn't disinterested.
Last night, LeBron was focused. He was fixated. He was applying the death blows to a Celtics team he's had no choice but to respect the past few years, and he was making sure they didn't miss.
James killed the Celtics with as dazzling a minute of basketball as any player is capable of. The three-pointer to break an 87-87 tie. The aforementioned three that crippled the Celtics. A steal on the next Boston possession, followed by a thunderous dunk that brought a dizzy crowd back to its feet with a rush. A final-touch layup in the final seconds that polished off an unimaginable 16-0 Miami run.
It wasn't until the final points that LeBron joined the party he had started. He stood near the crowd, yelling and roaring. It's hard for a word to overstate his reaction. It was more than a celebration, it was release.
James was the hunter holding the head of his prized kill. It was a moment of pure competitive fire, the kind that defined Jordan and Bird and defines Kobe and Wade. There was no Nike to that moment. No "LeBrons," no "Decision," no chalk, no Sprite.
LeBron, at that moment, was an assassin. That LeBron has made it a mission to destroy everyone in his path. With that LeBron, the Heat will win the NBA Finals. It can't lose.
James has his critics; many of them. And they'll argue that the old LeBron, the one wrapped up in himself, returned in the postgame when he, "overcome with emotion," "broke down" and "cried" on the sideline. They'll argue that he was just fishing for a "Where Amazing Happens" clip, and that he has no perspective on what happens around him. Hey, maybe they're right, maybe they're wrong. That's debatable.
What isn't debatable, is that look. The face LeBron had when he took the shot, and its similarity to the one he had when it went in. The calm aggression he showed when everyone around him exploded in uncontrolled joy.
And the notion that, with this LeBron, the Heat will be the ones celebrating when the NBA Finals come to an end.