Photo: Sun Sports
Three years ago, LeBron James didn’t possess the comfort level to abuse the height-challenged J.J. Barea from the post in the 2011 NBA Finals. First-year Nets coach Jason Kidd actually played on that Mavericks team, the one that crushed the Heat’s championship hopes in Year 1 of The LeBron Era.
Tuesday night, James made himself at home hovering around Brooklyn’s cylinder, embarrassing an array of helpless Nets defenders en route to a 107-86 Heat hammering in Game 1.
It was as if he broke down Kidd’s front door, grabbed the last beer from the fridge, and put those gnarly feet up on the coffee table while vigorously throwing down the young coach’s prized oatmeal cookies. Shaun Livingston was one of those cookies midway through the third when James backed him down in overpowering fashion, missed a bunny and was still able to convert the putback. Give the flaco Nets guard a taser in that situation and the outcome wouldn’t deviate.
But it was much earlier when James set the tone for his highly efficient 22-point night on 10-for-15 shooting. Even more impressive was the fact those 22 came on just two free throws. LeBron’s 1.29 points per possession last night was his highest since his 43-point evening against the Cavs (1.79) on March 18.
Let’s rewind to the first quarter, when James posted three times, with a couple of postgame Kidd jammed in there.
“When someone doubles, he knows who the open guys is.”
That’s called your vision in a 6’8″ frame, Jason.
“When he gets in the post, he can cause a problem because of his strength and I.Q.”
It didn’t matter if Brooklyn threw Joe Johnson, Paul Pierce, Andray Blatche or Shaun Livingston at James in Game 1– nobody could handle him. It’s no coincidence LeBron didn’t attempt a three for the first time since way back on January 5 against Toronto. That’s five months and this is a solid (38%) three-point shooter attempting four treys a game to that point. There was deliberate intent to funnel everything inside, especially early.
You can see the aggression from his shot chart.
The one missed jumper was the product of the shot clock forcing a desperate attempt midway through the second quarter. The three made jump shots came after the Heat had already built a 17-point lead with just over six minutes remaining with no sign of Pierce or Johnson reentering. The outcome was essentially fixed at that point.
Besides that one necessary heave, LeBron James didn’t attempt anything outside eight feet until midway through the fourth quarter when the Nets were already clipped. In the process, the mere threat of a LeBron attack opened up the court for the Heat to shoot 57 percent from the field as a team.
The lesson? James didn’t want to pull out the sniper yet. No, he wanted to cozy up to the Nets defense, put his feet up on Jason Kidd’s coffee table, and throw down some cookies. LeBron made himself feel right at home in Game 1. How will Kidd counter?