As the Miami Heat coasted through the regular season, there were moments where we took for granted how good a player Lebron James is. Tonight wasn’t one of those nights.
From beginning to the end, James made sure his presence was felt, lifting his teammates lackadaisical play. Nearing the 50-point mark, James came through, carrying the Miami Heat to a 102-96 victory to take a 3-1 lead in the series versus the Brooklyn Nets.
What made the performance a bit more special was the proclamation from Nets forward Paul Pierce who openly asked to guard Lebron James.
“I went to J-Kidd [for] Game 2 and said I want that assignment. … I think I’ve guarded him more than anybody in this gym. I know his tendencies a little bit more and I just try to step up in that role and try to lead that way.”
These two aren’t unfamiliar with each other, their battles dating back to the days of Cleveland vs. Boston when Pierce had a hand in stopping two James-led championship campaigns, ultimately forcing James to bolt to Miami as he searched for the perfect situation.
Fast forward four years and not only have the tables turned, but things are a big different. Each player is four years older, those four years impacting Pierce far more than James. Where Pierce has slowed down, needing to use his experience and wit to get by as his natural talent has declined, James has improved, learning how to use his natural abilities as his greatest strength, something the basketball world feared years ago.
And Pierce got his wishes: to guard Lebron James, but this wasn’t 2009 and it showed as James torched Pierce and every other defender that stepped his way. By the end of the night, James finished Game 4 with 49 points (tied career-high in playoff points) on 16-of-24 shooting (66%), 14-of-19 from the free-throw line, and also added 6 rebounds, 2 assists, and 3 steals.
Falling one point short of 50 points will matter to the fans, but to Lebron tonight was the perfect reminder that, when Lebron wants to, he’s still the best player in the NBA.
Enjoy the highlights: