December 20, 2014

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LeBron has a game to remember

“The Chosen One’’ has the Cavaliers on the verge of reaching the promised land.
LeBron James turned in one of the greatest performances in NBA history Thursday night, scoring a career-playoff high
48 points as Cleveland rallied for a 109-107 double-overtime win over the Detroit Pistons.
The breathtaking win in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals means the Cavaliers are one game away from advancing to the NBA finals — and can close out the series on Saturday evening at Quicken Loans Arena.
“This means more to me than any other game,’’ said an exhausted James, who scored Cleveland’s final 25 points and shattered every conceivable franchise record in the two extra periods. “If I did everything I did tonight and we lost, it would mean nothing. We’re now one more win from getting to our goal.’’
James was absolutely spectacular over the last 17 minutes and 47 seconds, repeatedly saving the Cavaliers from being knocked out by the battle-tested Pistons.
He scored 29 of Cleveland’s final 30 points, erased a 7-point deficit in the last 3:03 of regulation, then rescued the Cavaliers from a three-point hole in the last 75 seconds of double OT.
It was a truly regal occasion inside the The Palace of Auburn Hills that no one in attendance will ever forget — even the Pistons fans who no doubt would like to purge it from their memory banks.
“This was the single-best game I’ve ever seen at this level in this atmosphere,’’ Cleveland coach Mike Brown said. “LeBron was absolutely phenomenal tonight. I kind of feel bad because words don’t even do justice to what he did. He was awesome. At 22 years old, Wow! Wow! Wow!’’
Considering that Brown is one of the least quotable and might be the most emotionless coach in the league, his words after the game spoke volumes.
In the biggest game of his life with the entire sports world watching, James played at a level that few players in the sports history have ever reached.
Statistically speaking, the fourth-year pro turned in the greatest crunch-time performance ever in the NBA playoffs. But that only tells half of the story.
James outwitted, outhustled and outplayed a Detroit team that is playing in its fifth consecutive East finals — a Pistons squad that was an overwhelming favorite to win the series everywhere outside of Northeast Ohio.
He beat double-teams, triple-teams and every junk scheme imaginable, as well as abusing Detroit defensive ace Tayshaun Prince in one-on-one coverage.
If that wasn’t enough, James even stood up to the neighborhood bully in the first quarter by rushing to Anderson Varejao’s aid after he was clotheslined to the floor by Antonio McDyess of the Pistons.
“He kept attacking and he didn’t quit,’’ Brown said. “Because he didn’t quit, the rest of the team didn’t quit. We kept fighting until the final buzzer.’’
Ironically, Detroit only has itself to blame for the way James played, as does Western Conference champion San Antonio, which awaits the East winner in the NBA Finals. They have set a great example for him and the rest of the Cavaliers to emulate.
Now, though, James and his fellow students are ready to blaze a trail of their own.
“In the world of basketball, when you look at San Antonio and you look at Detroit, that’s what you want to be at a certain point in your career,’’ James said. “I respect the Pistons more than any team in the league just because I’m in the Eastern Conference and I play against them as much as I do. We have to take the challenge to them on Saturday.’’
Contact Brian Dulik at sports@ohio.net.