For years we’ve asked the question.
“LeBron James is so big and powerful. Why doesn’t he get inside more?”
In Game 2 of the NBA Finals, we found out what happens when he does. James scored 18 of his 32 points in the paint. He scored 20 points on field goal attempts. So on non-free-throws, James scored 18 of 20 in the paint in the Heat’s 100-96 win.
Here’s a look at his shot chart for the game, which shows just how aggressive he was in this game, when the team needed him most down 1-0. This game may honestly have been more impressive than his 45-point explosion vs. Boston. He attacked instead of relying on the jumper, he fought for his points instead of settling. That word is huge. When LeBron James doesn’t settle, he is impossible to defend.
That’s the kind of LeBron James who can ruin a team’s night, and James did it in Game 2. James realized early on that the Thunder have no one who can contain him inside and he made it a point to drive and jump-stop, drive and jump-stop. He had the array going. Jump hooks, floaters, runners, dunks, and putbacks. It was a brutal array that left the Thunder stunned. The Heat outscored the Thunder 48-32 in points in the paint. James was a monter reason why.
Thabo Sefolosha and Kevin Durant were gifted a jump-shooting James in Game 1, only to find in Game 2 a James engaged and raging in the paint. It was Bruce Banner turning into the Hulk. And when Serge Ibaka blocked James in the first quarter, James turned around and got two driving layups on him, one on a fly-by, another with a pump-fake, putting the brakes on and watching Ibaka Top Gun on by.
The Thunder were caught in a bad situation. Switch and put a big on him, he bursts past. Put a wing defender on him in isolation, and he muscles inside. But more than that is this. James isn’t settling anymore. He took one bad shot late going for the dagger. But when his team needed him to make plays, he put on his hard hat and went to the paint. This is bad for the Thunder, bad for the league, bad for anyone up against him.
You can survive James when he’s doing the all-around game. But a LeBron James motivated and engaged in creating shots close to the rim, with that kind of athletic set?
That’s the stuff of nightmares. And it’s the stuff of a tied series going back to Miami.