You know what they say: Don’t take LeBron James for granted.
It seems like an outlandish premise, perhaps, that anyone would overlook his ability as he stormed to his 10th NBA Finals in 17 seasons.
James, of course, had his ears open last offseason for whispers that he might be “washed” after a groin injury slowed him in his first season in L.A. and curtailed his personal 13-season playoff streak. And he found any such sentiments quite motivational, it turns out.
But don’t count anyone on or near the court in Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals among James’ doubters, not Saturday, and likely not ever — especially not after he soloed for a decisive nine-point charge in the fourth quarter of the 117-107 series-clinching victory, all but singlehandedly snuffing out the never-ever-quit Nuggets, who’d rallied from 16 points down to as close as 2 with 10:25 to play.
“When you just step back and look and marvel at what LeBron is doing at this stage of his career, how he continues to find ways to improve and get better and take whatever team he’s on to new heights, that defines his greatness,” said Denver coach Michael Malone, who coached James in Cleveland between 2005-10.
“He’s one of the greatest to ever do it and his resume speaks for itself. In a Game 5, closeout game, when the game was hanging in the balance, who took over? The best player on the floor.”
James’ starring sidekick Anthony Davis hit big shots and played staunch defense in the series against Denver, but when it was time to close the door, he was happy to let James slam it shut it so hard it shook the bubble.
“He told us it was his time, he told me it was his time and everybody just kinda got out the way and let him be him,” Davis said. “And he brought it home for us. He’s always capable of doing that, he makes the right plays, he makes the right reads and tonight, the read for him was to get to the basket and finish or make a play. All of them was good reads and he carried us tonight.”
The way Lakers guard Alex Caruso described it, being on the court as a witness as James went to work was something of a gift.
“It’s just super cool for me to be able to have this experience and play meaningful minutes, and to play well and be on the court with LeBron scoring (nine) points to close out the game in big time moments,” Caruso said, going on to describe the confidence James instills in his side when he gets going in crunch time.
“Once LeBron starts making outside shots late in the game, I kind of know that it’s over for the other team, just because I know we’re gonna get stops eventually, we’re gonna make enough plays down the stretch to get the game under control. And a guy like that, what else do you want to do? Just give him the ball and let him be himself. He’s one of the greatest players to ever play for a reason.”
Or, as Lakers guard Danny Green put it: “He hasn’t let people forget, this guy’s the greatest player in the … damn world.”
For his part, James said he never really relishes the moments like the other players who were part of his audience Saturday, even now, as he’s aged and developed more perspective.
“I don’t, unfortunately,” he said. “I wish I did. They happen so fast and my mind is still so locked in on the journey, that it’s hard for me to take in and appreciate what we just accomplished. Just how I’ve always been. I always say that when I’m done playing the game, hopefully I look back on it and enjoy it — and hopefully I will. Hopefully I can, because I don’t think I enjoy it enough when I’m in it, because I’m so engulfed in the process until the final call.”
LeBron James said he doesn’t savor games like this one, or fourth quarters like this one, more now that he’s older. He says he’s too engulfed in the process to celebrate what the Lakers have achieved so far. pic.twitter.com/lsQt7vxsP5
— Kyle Goon (@kylegoon) September 27, 2020
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