When it comes to watching games with the intent of writing about them later, not all contests are created equal. Sometimes I’m scrambling to remember what I saw throughout the game, because rather than making notes during timeouts I chose to grab additional refreshment. I was prepared tonight though. Noting specific instances where Richard Hamilton made Sasha Pavlovic look silly, of which there were many. Carefully tracking how the foul situation was piling up on Cleveland all game, since I had a hunch that Cleveland would be in foul trouble late. They were. But now that it’s over, I can probably crinkle up the vast majority of these notes and just talk about one thing.
That one thing, of course is LeBron James.
The final result of Thursday night’s Game 5 between the Pistons and Cavaliers was a 109-107 win in double overtime for Cleveland, putting them up in the series three games to two. At one point, Cleveland had scored 84 points. From that point onward, no other Cavalier but LeBron James scored. No baskets. No free throws. LeBron James scored the last 25 points for Cleveland, coming to a total of 48. No one else wearing red scored in either of the two overtime periods but James.
And, as a quick tour through SportsCenter over the next 18 hours will reveal, not only did James score, but he scored in some of the most amazing ways a player could have. Not one, two, but three thunderous dunks; but the most impressive part was how, after having played over 45 minutes of basketball, James continued to hit step-back jumper after step-back jumper.
Detroit would often send two or even three guys to defend him, and James simply elevated over all of them to get the bucket in a clear line of sight, then let ’em fly. And not over some poor 5’9″ sacrificial lamb. Tayshaun Prince is one of the longest forwards in the league. LeBron still got over top of him. And not in the sixth game of the season against the Celtics. No, this was in two successive overtime periods of a Game 5 in the Eastern Conference Finals against what is widely considered one of the best defensive squads in recent NBA memory.
Tonight is somewhat special for me. You always hear of people talking about where they were when certain sports landmarks occur. I was able to gloat about having actually stayed up to finish off Boise State’s upset of Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl this past January. I remember Tom Brady’s first late game drive to beat the Rams and bring the Patriots their first and most unlikely championship. I recall nearly spitting Coke up after watching Derek Fisher hit his famous shot with 0.4 seconds left to beat the San Antonio Spurs in Game 5 of their series with the Lakers three years ago.
No matter what happens from here on out, this will be considered a performance for the ages. Every time LeBron went up for yet another difficult jumper, I knew it’d be the one he finally missed. He never did.
There was more to this crazy game than just LeBron’s heroics. Billups warrants some discussion, and both coaches made some truly curious errors. But tonight, we are all, plain and simple, witnesses. LeBron has faced nothing but pressure in this entire series, and tonight on another team’s floor he erupts for a performance like this. There’s no better way for me to articulate it. Tonight was one of the best NBA playoff performances ever, and only ESPN Classic will be able to do it justice.
One thing before I let you run off to watch the encore showing, though. There must be something said about the ejection of Antonio McDyess late in the first quarter. McDyess laid out Anderson Varejao with the same clothesline type hit that usually goes relatively unpunished. Had he hit Varejao in the chest, as is usually what happens, he would have been fine. It was a direct hit to the face though, and with that in the equation he just had to be tossed from the game. It will be very, very disappointing if the league chooses to hand out yet another frivolous suspension over this one.
There are two days before Game 6 back in Cleveland, and at some point the other aspects of this game need to be analyzed. Mike Brown’s clock management deserves some criticism, and as amazing as James was, there was a reason why he had to take this game on his back and allow the rest of his team to become spectators. Detroit’s Flip Saunders is hardly free of blame: he made some very perplexing decisions with when to sub in different players on Detroit’s front line. Sasha Pavlovic played his worst game of the series thus far. And, of course, there is the evolving story of Billups’ less-than inspiring-play in this series. But I’ve got two days to cover it. And I will. Tonight, I am content to be a witness.Powered by Sidelines