Neither is the matchup new nor the backdrop unfamiliar. For the fourth time in five seasons LeBron James will take the floor at Boston’s TD Garden for a game in which a season hangs in the balance.
In May 2008, a year removed from a virtuoso run to the NBA Finals, LeBron’s Cavaliers met the C’s in a winner-take-all affair for the right to square off against the Detroit Pistons in the Eastern Conference Finals. In one of the great true mano a mano battles in recent playoff history, the eventual champs – behind 41 on just 23 shots from Paul Pierce, and no more than 13 from anyone else – outlasted a Cavs team that received 45 of its 92 points (along with five rebounds, six assists, two steals and just two turnovers, despite a 41.9% Usage Rate) from LeBron, for a 97-92 victory.
Two years later, this time with the Orlando Magic awaiting the victor at the NBA’s penultimate hurdle, it was at the TD Garden where, fresh off a 32-point drubbing in what proved to be his final home game in Cleveland, LeBron James: Cleveland Cavalier met his Waterloo. Aspersions were cast and – thanks to a certain hour-long appearance on ESPN – subsequently cemented as gospel regarding LeBron’s commitment, as he coasted to 27-19-10 with three steals, but made just eight of 21 shots and coughed up possession a staggering nine times in the 94-85 defeat.
In roughly 25 months (how has it not been longer?) since he ripped off his wine and gold in that Boston hallway, almost every intangible once taken for granted about LeBron has been called into question. With talent utterly beyond reproach, he’s been vilified – sometimes rightfully, often not – for, among other things, his lack of loyalty (now, that Dwight Howard on the other hand…), integrity, humility, maturity, self-awareness, self-reliance, killer instinct, fashion sense, desire and courage. Round out the list as you see fit.
Last spring, having seemingly vanquished not only the Celtics but his legions of newfound detractors, LeBron marched the Heat to within two wins of the franchise’s second championship – and himself to within two wins of the NBA’s most resounding exhale in 40 years.
An inexplicable disappearance in last season’s final act, combined with the now universally(ish) accepted “truths” that he’d “needed help,” “taken the easy way out” and begun “ring chasing” too early in his career, resuscitated the peanut gallery…
Hey, it’s LeBron James Day in Miami. Everyone gets to leave work 12 minutes early.
If you need change for a dollar, don’t ask LeBron – you’ll only get three quarters.
LeBron should try out for the NHL. They only play three periods.
Apple is coming out with a LeBron James iPhone. It only vibrates. No rings…
To say nothing of comedic masterminds that brought you LeDouche, LeQuit, LeQueen, LeBitch... really, just the lamest Mad Lib ever.
You know what I'm talking about. You've done it too.
Tonight, his painstakingly constructed new empire in flux, he returns to the haunts where the last one crumbled. To stare down the defilers of his crown.
A growing tally of late-game instances in which he’s opted for the "right basketball play" in lieu of aggressively looking to settle matter himself – from the inconsequential (March 2 in Utah) to the, well, the final minutes of Miami’s Game 5 defeat –has revived the exhausted conversations about heart, grit, desire and fortitude.
Is LeBron afraid of the moment? Will he ever win “the big one”? Will he, CAN he, raise his game when the stakes are highest? Does he want it enough?
Please, LeBron, make it stop. Once and for all. Ok, maybe just once again. Whatever. We've been waiting, dude. Ever since the 48 Special. There's another one in there somewhere. The lights upon you may never be brighter than they will be tonight, the reception never more venomous.
You’ve set this stage. That magical night in Detroit. Game 7 in Boston the following spring. The MVPs. Your thudding 2010 finale. The Decision. The Pep Rally. The statistical greatness. The physical domination. Passes to Udonis Haslem in the dying seconds. Idling in the corner while Dwyane operates. Attempting as many free throws as Ray Allen in Game 5. All of it has conspired to deliver you to this moment.
As much as my brain says "Cut the cord. This is just what LeBron is," I continue to hold out hope. For the next one. For the time you drop 50 “when it counts.” I know it’s in there. So do you. You can’t not.
We’ve seen your way – always making the "correct basketball play." How’s that workin’ for you? Given the bumper crop of jewelry it’s landed you, I’d say it’s left a bit to be desired. What baffles me is that in this seemingly eternal quest to do the "right" by the masses, the other way – y’know, the one where your use that combination of speed, power and skill that you possess that no one in the history of the game ever has to lay waste to all in your path, Dwyane Wade’s ego be damned – doesn’t even seem to have a place in the equation.
For better or worse, man, empty your gun tonight. If not for me, do it for Skip Bayless.
Put this fucking baby to bed.