MIAMI – For a guy who claims not to have slept much Saturday night, LeBron James looked remarkable Sunday night, refreshed even, for the start of the Miami Heat’s defense of their NBA title.
And no, it had nothing to do with the designer red sweater he wore to the postgame media gathering after James and the Heat demolished the Milwaukee Bucks 110-87 at AmericanAirlines Arena.
A restless LeBron looks a lot like the same uber-efficient LeBron we’ve seen all season, and particularly in his past 10 games. James is shooting a staggering 70 percent from the floor and 57 percent from behind the 3-point line. While everyone else plays at game speed, James continues to play at his own speed. It’s not breaking news that he flirted with a triple-double Sunday night … he does that on the regular. It’s the way he does it, making it look easy, that makes you pause.
He needed just 11 shots, making nine of them, to pile up his game-high 27 points. The 10 rebounds and eight assists, nearly each and every one of them a momentum-shifter in one way or another, completed his performance.
“He really just let the game come to him,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “He facilitated quite a bit for us. He was creating triggers a lot of times by setting screens and generated a lot of offense just by doing that. It was a very mature, high IQ game. Yeah, that’s about as an efficient as you can get. He made that look easier than it was.”
James has a knack for doing exactly that, making it look easier than it was. Sunday marked the 13th time in his career that he has finished a playoff game with those numbers, the most of any player in NBA history.
“When [James] has a game like that, what can you do?” Bucks coach Jim Boylan said. “I thought Luc Mbah a Moute and Marquis Daniels battled him well. The guy is the best player in the world right now, so what can you do?”
A calm and composed James can nitpick his own work, highlighting his five turnovers and the Heat’s 19 that resulted in 22 points for the Bucks, who will get another dose of this in Game 2 Tuesday night.
“That is the disappointing thing for us,” James said, “The 19 turnovers and 22 points. A lot of those 19 turnovers were careless, including myself, I had five. You know how I am about turning the ball over. I had five of them and three or fourth of them were careless and unforced. We can’t allow that to happen.”
Actually, you can. When you have a bench, powered by Ray Allen‘s 20 points and Chris “Birdman” Andersen‘s 10, capable of producing 43 points, to the Bucks’ 25, you can get away with a little sloppiness in your playoff opener. You can get away with it when superstars like Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh can play complementary roles to the most efficient and dynamic player in basketball.
“He’s in playoff mode,” Wade said of James. “We love him in that mode. Now he is focused on his goal. His goal is to dominate every game and help take this team to a championship.”
Having done it once before, you might assume that this playoff journey would stand out to James above others. But that’s not his way, not his frame of mind for this postseason. He said before the game that he couldn’t remember how he felt before Game 1 last year, so he couldn’t compare then and now. Truth be told, he has no desire to compare what was with what is or even what could be. Competing against his own ghost holds no appeal to James.
“I try to stay in the moment, to live in the moment,” he said.
And why wouldn’t he?
His next game always provides an opportunity to set a new standard or at least chase one that someone else set. He’s scored 25 or more points in 16 straight playoff games, and he kept that streak alive Sunday night with the fewest shot attempts in his playoff career. Shooting 82 percent from the floor, of course, makes these sorts of things possible in LeBron’s world.
The Bucks found that out the hard way. They stayed close early thanks to Brandon Jennings (26 points on not-nearly-as-efficient 8-for-20 shooting) and kept fighting long enough for Monta Ellis (22 points on solid 10-for-19 shooting, though he was just 1-for-6 from deep) to get going, too.
And the Heat still won going away, with all of their turnovers tossed in for good measure, thanks to James.
It’s like Boylan said, when a guy has a game like that (and game like that), what do you do?