Poised Performance In His Recurring Role

Cleveland routs Washington, 105-88, in Game 6 at Verizon Center to knock the Wizards out of the playoffs for the third straight year.
By Mike Wise
Monday, April 28, 2008

LeBron James, the 6-foot-8 rock of a physical specimen, has nothing on LeBron James, the mentally superior athlete whose annual rite of spring is to psychologically crush the Washington Wizards in their own building.

Don't get caught up in the numbers, because his 34-point, 12-rebound, 7-assist statistical line does not illustrate why the Cleveland Cavaliers are one game away from pulling down the curtain on "The Gil, Caron and 'Tawn Show" before May.

It's not the production; it's the poise, the ability for a composed 23-year-old to weather boos from 20,000 people. It's the focus to overcome chants and vulgarities and an open-hand, windmill flagrant foul from his rumble-at-the-park nemesis, DeShawn "It's On" Stevenson.

It's the single-mindedness to push past the late-game resilience of his yakety-yak opponents. It's the ability to withstand a circus prayer from Gilbert Arenas that tied the game and was described in the official play-by-play as "Unknown Shot," to win.

It's LeBron fooling an entire arena into believing he would take Cleveland's last shot of Game 4, not that rail-thin southpaw Delonte West hanging out beyond the arc on the right baseline.

On the seventh day, in the fourth game, he passed.

"That's why he is going to go down as the best player ever in this game, because not only can he score, not only can he rebound, he has the ultimate trust in his teammates," Cavaliers Coach Mike Brown said of James, who drew the defense before kicking it out to West for Game 4's winner, a three-pointer that may have pierced Washington's hope of ever beating Cleveland with this roster of players.

Brown is a bit hyperbolic, if only because James has no real supporting cast now, even less of one than last season when he willed his team past Detroit and into the NBA Finals.

After Zydrunas Ilgauskas, it's generous to call Cleveland "LeBron and the Extras"; King James and the Key Grips is more like it. Until he has a genuine secondary all-star, he has no immediate chance of winning one NBA title, let alone three championships, to even think about entering the Michael-Magic-Larry debate.

But the Cavaliers' corn-silk-thin bench speaks even more about what kind of player could even fathom having faith in his teammates with their postseason in the balance. After Arenas hit that unorthodox bank shot to tie the game with 28 seconds left, LeBron dribbled downcourt. The Phone Booth exploded with noise, everyone standing, hollering. He cocked his ear toward the stands, essentially imploring a city whose basketball heart he has annually broken for three years now to hope and dream one more time -- just a little bit more -- for his and his team's demise.

And as everyone collapsed on him, LeBron merely found West, a throw-in player in the trade for Ben Wallace and Wally Szczerbiak, with 5.4 seconds left. Eleanor Roosevelt High's own rose, fired and released, in almost the same place Damon Jones last hit a shot that mattered in 2006 for Cleveland.

Ballgame. Again.

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