When the buzzer sounded to conclude the end of the 2012 NBA Finals, there was only one thought that crossed everybody’s mind.
The floodgates are open.
An NBA championship represents the accomplishment and success of an entire franchise coming together, recognizing their potential and abilities, and then properly executing through team chemistry, a readiness to make adjustments, and the physical and mental endurance that comes with having to face a form of adversity.
The Miami Heat were the ideal championship team. Their roster didn’t resemble such, but their identity as a hungry, motivated team was what propelled them to defeating an upstart Oklahoma City team in five games, three of which came down to the wire and were decided in the final minute. The team that wanted it more and made the proper coaching and personnel decisions ended up winning.
But the attention was focused solely on LeBron James, the Finals MVP for that championship after averaging a staggering 28 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists that was coupled with superb late-game defense on Kevin Durant. Arguably the league’s top clutch player, Durant was quiet in every fourth quarter with the exception of Game 1 when he was being primarily defended by Shane Battier. James’ ball denial and aggressive pressure kept Durant in check for the most part, despite the scoring champion averaging over 30 points per.
LeBron capped the series off with an exceptional Game 5: 26 points on 19 shots, a season-high 13 assists, 11 rebounds, two blocks and a steal in 44 minutes. He scored at least 26 points in every game, far different than the 2011 Finals where he somehow managed an eight-point game, and had at least a double-double in the final three games. He came a rebound short of a triple-double in Game 4 and may have got that rebound if he didn’t begin to cramp up in the final frame.
It was a completely different player from the one we saw in 2011. Confidence certainly plays a key role. As opposed to the shell he was reduced to when he almost had the demeanor of someone who was frightened to drive because of his ball-handling, LeBron was brimming with confidence in 2012; posting up on every defender who attempted to limit him, driving on the league’s top shot-blocker, and constantly on the attack.
LeBron attempted 16 three-pointers and 108 total field-goals in all over five games. Oklahoma City’s loaded frontcourt hardly provided the same sort of intimidation the Tyson Chandler-led Mavericks provided. In fact, the Thunder’s was just as daunting when you consider Serge Ibaka, as well as another staunch defender in Nick Collison and Kendrick Perkins, who has a great deal of experience in defending James’ drives.
Coach Erik Spoelstra’s small lineup limited their minutes, but it didn’t matter. LeBron was on a mission and it didn’t come to an end June 21st.
A few months later and it’s LeBron devastating an underachieving Los Angeles Lakers team. Despite having a three-time Defensive Player of the Year in Dwight Howard manning the fort down low, James dominated the paint shooting 15-of-16 in the area, including a perfect 13-of-13 from within eight feet. The Heat ended up scoring 68 points in the area that’s primarily manned by Howard, as well as a fellow 7-footer in Pau Gasol.
LeBron recorded 39 points on 25 shots, eight assists, seven rebounds, three steals and a block in 42 minutes. This comes barely a day after leading the Heat in a blowout win against Golden State where he finished with 25 points on 20 shots, 10 assists, seven rebounds and a steal in only 31 minutes. And only two days after a 32-point outing against Utah where he also contributed six assists, four rebounds, three steals and two blocks.
It’s been like this all season. While leading the Heat to a 26-12 record, LeBron has scored under 20 points once. One time in 38 games has LeBron scored 20 points. That’s no easy feat, especially when you consider that James is only one of nine players averaging at least 20 points per game. Out of the nine players averaging 20, only two are converting at least 50 percent of their shots: James and Kevin Durant.
Of those nine players, three are averaging at least six assists per: James, Russell Westbrook, and Stephen Curry. Westbrook leads that group with 8.3 assists per, but he’s also averaging 22.7 points on 42 percent shooting to LeBron’s 26 points per on 55 percent shooting.
The 55 percent LeBron is shooting is a career-high, and it’s also the fourth consecutive season James is shooting at least 50 percent. He’s currently seventh in the league in field-goal percentage with the top six all being centers. Tony Parker is the only non-power forward/center, outside of LeBron, in the top 19.
Let’s not forget that LeBron also ranks tenth in assists per with seven and is the only forward averaging at least five assists per. Andre Iguodala is a distant second averaging 4.5.
LeBron also ranks first among small forwards in rebounds per at 8.1. Oh, and he’s also converting a career-high 40 percent of his three-pointers. The 26.3 points per game is his lowest since joining the Heat, but that can be attributed to the inclusion of more consistent scorers in Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis.
His offensive rating of 121 is his highest since his final year in Cleveland, and his defensive rating of 102 is the third-highest of his career.
LeBron’s dominance on a game-by-game is so redundant basis that we’re beginning to almost grow bored. He has us drunk on his capabilities, yet stoned on his potential. We always seem to forget that he is only getting better. There has been a significant departure from the LeBron that once exerted a great deal of energy in regular season games and highlight dunks in traffic.
The Heat are getting a matured LeBron James. He conserves his energy, while remaining as efficient as ever, and has made adjustments that he never thought would have occurred during his time in Cleveland. When a championship and pressure is on the brain, it can make a player do one of two things. They can either wilt under the pressure or they can live up to their name and become the player they’re meant to become.
Outside of the 2011 Finals, LeBron has been borderline flawless. The stats we thought he would sacrifice upon joining the Heat have yet to depart, with James only improving his field-goal percentage, efficiency, and postseason numbers. His transition to playing in a larger role as a power forward has only continued to maximize the potential of what he could still become.
Who knows when it will end? LeBron is a genetic specimen that the NBA has never seen before. We could eventually see him break timeless records, such as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s all-time scoring record of over 38,000 points. James recently hit 20,000, but has the endurance, stamina and ambition to best such a mark.
In the meantime, NBA fans, especially Heat fans, can only appreciate what they are being observers to on a nightly basis.