Posted May 10 2011 9:33AM
BOSTON -- The charge he drew on Paul Pierce was so effective that the back of his jersey likely had parquet skid marks. He snuck inside for a crucial layup. And he made a 3-point shot launched from Cape Cod. This all happened in the tense moments of the fourth quarter and overtime.
Could it be that LeBron James, who "put a lot of pressure" on himself in Game 4 for obvious reasons, just went from LeQuit ... to legit?
Let us briefly pause here to applaud Chris Bosh on his timely (manly?) game-clinching tip-in that will stop folks at least temporarily from snickering about his toughness. And the Heat's lock-down D that turned Kevin Garnett into Shaquille O'Neal (the current version, not 2002). And everything else that allowed Miami to assume a 3-1 lead in the East semifinals.
But make no mistake. This series was always about LeBron and redemption from last season's series with the Celtics, when a segment of the basketball world turned against him. And after coming up big Monday, he is one victory from distancing himself from that previous series, his lowest professional moment.
LeBron was a driven man in Game 4, because he knew the stakes, which were steep. You saw in the way he demanded the ball and played with a passion. You saw when, after Ray Allen put the Celtics up three points with 2:28 left, how LeBron immediately responded with a 3-pointer of his own.
"A back-breaker," Allen called it.
And you saw how LeBron took it personally after he lost his grip on the ball with 19 seconds left in regulation, score tied. Suddenly, he was in jeopardy of being a goat again, and possibly repeating a nightmare, and getting the blame for giving Boston life.
"The only way to redeem myself for turning it over was for me to get a stop and give us an opportunity to win," he said. "I had a timeout to kick myself. I had to let it go."
So in OT he drew an offensive foul on Pierce, the first charge of the postseason for LeBron, that swung momentum and ultimately the outcome in Miami's favor. Thirty-five points and 14 rebounds only begins to explain the effort of a player who badly wants to move on in the playoffs, compared to last summer against the Celtics, when LeBron only gave the impression he wanted to move on from Cleveland.
Erik Spoelstra: "He had some 'will' plays, a competitive will with his talent. We needed every bit tonight."
LeBron: "This was one of the biggest games of my career. I approached it that way."
His public fall from the iconosphere began last May, after the Cavs, who dominated basketball that season, went up 2-1 on Boston. You know the rest of the story. The Cavs crumbled and lost three straight. And LeBron, somewhat mysteriously, mailed in Games 4 and 5. When he shot 3-for-14 in the fifth game and ran away from the ball (and from responsibility in the aftermath of a 32-point beatdown), Cleveland began to turn on him.
Well, almost. Strangely, the same city that accused LeBron of quitting also begged him to re-sign weeks later. Instead, he announced he was taking his talents elsewhere, and Cavs owner Dan Gilbert fired off an angry memo to Cavs fans, charging LeBron with treason stemming from the Boston series. That led to a toxic atmosphere, and LeBron was savaged from city to city.
Every single misstep and utterance from LeBron has become magnified and fodder for his critics, double-standard be damned. Take the other day, when LeBron responded "that's retarded" to charges that Dwyane Wade made a dirty play on Rajon Rondo. Poor choice of words, no doubt. And after getting grief from the public and special-interest groups, LeBron apologized a day later (although we're still waiting for the same from the Black Eyed Peas for turning that word into a major hit, thanks to the very same public).
There is little to nothing LeBron can do to regain the affection he enjoyed, pre-Decision. He has the largest-selling jersey this season, but he finally realizes he can't control things like that. It's all about performance, which he can control. It's all about redemption on the floor.
It begins with beating the Celtics.
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