They say that defense wins championships, and with LeBron James leading the way, the Miami Heat are on the brink of making the NBA Finals for the first time since 2006. His ability to guard an opponent's best player was on display last night as Derrick Rose went 0-for-5 from the field and committed one crucial turnover in the clutch, all caused by James' suffocating defense.
Rose, arguably the most explosive player in the league, seemed bothered last night when James assumed the responsibility of guarding him down the stretch. It almost felt like a scenario where little brother was dominating the kids at the park, but when big brother stepped on the court, little brother became timid.
Rose knew he could not get to the rim, because James could match his quickness or chase him down with one of his signature "chase down" blocks. Rose knew he could not get off a clean shot, because James towers over him by about five or six inches. James' defensive prowess deflated Rose's confidence and left the Bulls one game away from elimination.
The ability to strike fear in your opponents and back it up by actually locking them down in the 4th quarter is what separates great players from good ones. That is what separated Michael Jordan from the rest of his peers, and that is what separates James from the other great perimeter players in the NBA. What makes James even more special is that he is lightning fast, stands 6'8", weighs 250 pounds and can guard any player on the court.
In this year's playoffs, James has averaged 6.7 defensive rebounds, 2.2 steals and 1.8 blocks to go along with his 26 points per game. He is dominating on both ends of the floor, but his ability to blanket the opposing team's best player is what makes him special. So let the debate begin: Is LeBron James the greatest perimeter defender in NBA history? That question will be answered if James leads the Heat to a championship and shuts down Dirk Nowitzki in the NBA Finals.