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The Anatomy of a Tired LeBron James Takeover

USA Today Sports

USA Today Sports

The Lance Stephenson Game turned into the Standard LeBron James Game pretty quickly last night. After a scintillating third quarter in which Stephenson drove to the basket for thunderous dunks, dazzled Miami Heat defenders into a tizzy through the West-Stephenson two-man game and capped it with a nap at center court, it was James’ turn. Cliche is as cliche goes, the King got the last laugh.

The Indiana Pacers don’t allow teams to shoot threes (fifth in the NBA at 19 per game allowed). Even when other teams find some semblance of air to shoot, it’s usually on a hard contest from lanky defenders like Paul George and George Hill (opponents shooting fourth-lowest at 34.5 percent).

Then in a flash, and when the Pacers were seemingly pushing Miami to the precipice of some random cliff, James rolled off three drive-and-dishes to give his team the lead.

While most superstars are content, and even thrive, while having the ball in their hands to create shots, James deliberates out on the perimeter and in the post. You can almost hear him thinking his way through the defense. Should I pass this for the pick-and-pop? How will that affect the backside defenders? If Shane Battier gets it in the corner and he drives to the baseline, I should be cutting against a lax defense?

It doesn’t hurt when James is making his assortment of ridiculous shots. The fadeaway jumper from the baseline and above-the-break three? Those weren’t tossed in in the midst of a supernova stretch. That’s the spoils from an awesome development of his jump shot.

The first two come against a scrambling Indiana defense. They’re playing hard and aware but an alert James, unwillingly to simply settle for jumpers, finds different ways to get to the bucket. The last comes when Paul George, unnecessarily (but we’ll cut him some slack because he should not have even been in after blacking out), reaches for a James outlet pass.

James combines the skillset – cutting and hockey assists – of a role player with the superstar’s understanding of his surroundings. While the Pacers can limit his sheer strength with size, they can’t contain the myriad scoring abilities of LeBron.

In a game where Erik Spoelstra was forced to play James the entire second half, he stuck the world’s best player on George Hill for the majority of the fourth quarter. The Heat spent nearly every possession flipping between matchup zones and pure switches and James mostly roamed the outskirts of the paint. And even though the Pacers scored only 20 points in the final stanza, James just didn’t have much energy on that end. Tasked to guard everyone from Paul George to fronting David West, he lost his man on more than several occasions. But of course, he made a play when the Pacers were desperately looking for a bucket (as they always are).

But it’s still something to keep in mind throughout the series as James appears to be fighting fatigue in only the second game of the series. In order to maintain optimum offensive efficiency, the Heat need James functioning at full strength on both ends. This was a great LeBron James game – one we’ve seen many times – but this Pacers team, and the effects of the last few long seasons, is starting to slowly wear him down.

Statistical support for this piece provided by NBA.com, unless stated otherwise.

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