“You either love ‘em, or you hate ‘em”
It’s a phrase we use about the greatest and/or most intriguing teams in sports history. We use it because it’s true.
The New York Yankees, Dallas Cowboys, Los Angeles Lakers and now — the Miami Heat. That’s the list. The latter, large in part, because of one man’s Decision.
Regardless of how you feel about LeBron James, one thing is absolutely undeniable: There has never been another athlete who possesses the combination of athletic attributes that he does. And in this writer’s opinion, there never will be again. He’s as original as the production on Yeezus.
Never have I witnessed (pun intended) an athlete as dominant as LeBron James also be as critiqued as he has been throughout his career. Maybe it’s the way he handled the 2010 free agency period and the ensuing Preseason Championship Party. Perhaps it was his comments following Miami’s 2011 NBA Finals loss to the Dallas Mavericks, reminding us we all had to go back to work the next day and that we don’t enjoy his luxuries. Or maybe it was the leak of the LeBron X Low that reads “2-Time Champion” on the insole… you know, before he’d won Game 7 against San Antonio. Maybe he’s a victim, a victim of being the first superstar to have to play during a time when, in large part because of Twitter, he is judged on a play-by-play basis. Maybe you’re from Cleveland. Maybe it’s some combination of everything I just mentioned and others I’ve left out.
Whatever the case may be, we poke and pull and jab and rip at James’ game like he’s a real-life variation of the board game Operation.
We wanted him to develop a post game. He did. We wanted to see him develop a consistent perimeter jumper. He did (a career-best 41 percent from three this year). We wanted him to win a ring, dominate playoff games en route to it, win Finals MVP and sustain that level of play from there on out. Check, check, check and check.
Yet it seems with him, and only him, that we still aren’t satisfied. That every time he doesn’t do something on the court the way we envisioned, we rip him. Twitter blows up with his every mistake, loathing over it while belittling his greatest feats because, well, if we were his size, we would never miss a shot, turn the ball over or commit a foul. It seems we’ll always pay far more attention to his two turnovers in Game 2 of the Indiana series than his game-winning layup in Game 1. Even on that play, it was not LeBron’s brilliance, it was Paul George‘s defensive miscue. That is not my opinion, but the unfortunate fact is that’s how we view the play. It seems as though even when he is winning, he can’t win.
Whatever the reason is or reasons are for how we analyze his game, I just hope that while doing so, we truly appreciate what we’re watching. Because again, we’ll never see another one like him.
And in case you have forgotten how great he has been over the course of his career, I’ve done you the solid of looking back at his 15 best playoff performances. Without further ado…
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15. 2006 First Round, Game 3 at Washington
This was the first real test of LeBron’s playoff career. Playing in Washington and coming off a terrible performance in a Game 2 loss (7-for-25 shooting, 10 turnovers), the King faced off against a hungry Wizards team and an explosive Gilbert Arenas (17 fourth-quarter points while being serenaded with “MVP” chants). He responded convincingly. LeBron countered with 41 points on 28 shots, and made the game-winning four-footer with 5.7 seconds left. That’s a crab dribble, baby. A crab dribble.
14. 2011 Eastern Conference Finals, Game 5 at Chicago
It wasn’t so much the points, although he scored a game-high 28. It wasn’t so much the rebounds, although he grabbed a game-high 11. It wasn’t so much the defense either, although he forced MVP Derrick Rose into 9-for-29 shooting. It was the when of it all.
Game 5, on the road against the No. 1 seed, down double-digits with less than three minutes to go, LeBron (and Wade) went on an 18-3 run to wipe away a 12-point Chicago lead and vault Miami to the Finals. James banged a triple to make it a five-point game with two minutes left. That shot forced a Bulls timeout. Then, a minute later, LeBron tied it with yet another three-pointer. With 29.5 seconds left, the King buried another jumper to put the Heat up 81-79, and on the other end, he put the icing on the cake by stealing a bad pass from Rose.
13. 2007 Eastern Conference Finals, Game 4 vs. Detroit
No one remembers the calm before the storm. Just two nights later, LeBron would have his #ESPNClassic moment in Detroit in Game 5 (more on this later), which, unfortunately, completely overshadowed this masterpiece.
During close losses in Games 1 and 2 in Detroit, James had scored a total of seven fourth-quarter points, while passing up a potential game-winner at the end of the first game and being unable to even get a shot off at the end of the second. The haters were coming out in droves, blaming LeBron for his inability to find the same killer instinct MJ had. We should’ve known what was coming next. He went for 12 in the fourth of Game 3, and then got even freakier in Game 4, pouring in 13 points to tie the series at two.
Steve Kerr could barely contain himself from the announcing booth. LeBron missed only two shots from the floor in the fourth, made all five of his freebies, and even added four boards and three dimes. By the end, the King had an easy 25 points and 11 helpers.
“I told my teammates, ‘Get me to the fourth and if it’s close, and I’ll try my best to win,” James said afterwards.