OAKLAND – Sure, there was the historical: LeBron James on Wednesday night became the youngest player in NBA history to score 20,000 career points, reaching the milestone more than a year faster than previous record holder Kobe Bryant, and also logged his 5,000th assist.
The Heat constricting on defense to trounce the Warriors 92-75 at Oracle Arena as James stacked 25 points, 10 assists and seven rebounds in 31 minutes was more about the moment, but was also significant in its own right. In some ways, it seemed to feel as good as the legacy stuff.
Miami had lost three of the first four games on the trip, beating only the Kings. The Heat had fallen to 8-9 overall on the road a season after finishing 18-15 en route to the championship. Most concerning of all, the team had started to play like a bored squad in some midseason malaise that finally prompted coach Eric Spoelstra to encourage the Heat to play with a sense of urgency, mid-January or not.
“We even mentioned it today in the shootaround, that guys need to get out of their comfort zone and bring something more, different,” Spoelstra said, channeling his master-motivator boss, Pat Riley. “Show the next guy, your brother in the locker room, how much it means to you to get a win; To do whatever it takes to compete to get this win. Our guys were expending a lot of energy on that defensive end with their activity, and that really set the tone for us. Our starters, even though we came out and missed some shots early, we got some good looks … the activity level, you could tell that we were with it tonight.”
They were like brothers in the locker room, all right. When James was presented the game ball behind closed doors, players pounced.
“A punch, a jab, an elbow, whatever they could get in before he started hitting back,” Spoelstra said.
Yes, the fun was back in a way that had been missing.
James got the scoring milestone at 28 years and 17 days old, ahead of Bryant reaching 20,000 at 29 years and 122 days, with a 12-footer in the lane with 2:45 remaining in the second quarter. James became the 38th player to break 20K and along with Wilt Chamberlain, Michael Jordan and Bryant the fourth to do it before turning 30. James is the seventh-fastest to get there in games, with 726, far off the Chamberlain pace of 499.
That would have made it special enough. But it was a unique moment in the greater sense.
“The state of our team, as far as we wanted to win and we wanted to play well,” James said. “It was a different type of feeling in that sense. Having been 1-3 on the road to this point, it had a lot to do with it.”