LeBron James generally does not do well when the basketball stops. He does ok when he goes 1-4 high. You know that play, the one where he stands at the top and dribbles, dribbles, dribbles, then either drives, passes to a cutter or a three point shooter, or steps back for the fadeaway. James can make a lot happen with this basic offense, even carried a team (the worst Eastern Conference champions ever) to the Finals that way.
But that's a staple of a younger James, a James that still isn't sure of how to fit or where to play where he's most-needed. That stationary James appeared in Games 2 and 3, where he sat in and let Indiana dig ditches and defend the paint, nullifying the one huge advantage Miami has over Indiana: The two best basketball players in this series. James struggled to get his team going at that pace, and Dwyane Wade pretty much fell apart in isolation against Paul George.
No, that James is not going to do, not with Chris Bosh out, not with Wade struggling, not with Miami's supporting cast trying to break concrete walls with fists. Isolation won't beat these Pacers, these deep, skilled, well-coached Pacers. James has to move, move, move. Danny Granger can keep with him if James digs down and stays where he's at. But an active dribble that threatens movement in any direction, or constant cutting off the ball, or moving from side to side rather than straight targeting the basket?
Then LeBron becomes quite unstoppable. Quite unbeatable.
The Heat were big on using the Chip Kelly model of offense this offseason, and you could see the presence of those elements in Game 4 helping the Heat succeed. Erik Spolestra spread out Wade and James and make teams guard them away from the ball. Miami would then overwhelm teams with speed, versatility, and athleticism on offense but particularly defense, and easy buckets should come in transition. For the most part in Game 4, the gameplan worked perfectly.
James attacked the basket from the baseline, the left elbow, the right elbow, the sideline, the high post, the paint. He distributed the ball when he got double-teamed (and finally found a player who would knock down shots in Udonis Haslem). He attacked aggressively in transition. He played in the post and at the top. He ran the pick-and-roll from both sides, attacking the basket or passing it off to the roll man off the double. The majority of his buckets came from the paint on floaters, layups, dunks, and foul calls that gave him free throws He took Indiana's big men out of the game by driving right into their slow rotations, then attacked with reckless abandon once he had the mismatches on the smaller Pacers.
It was incredible. It was unreal. It was basketball at its highest form (and we haven't even talked about his exceptional defense). On and on it went, and soon Wade caught fire along with James (thanks in part to the feeds inside with Wade making cuts off the ball), and then both of them were not just playing well, they were playing well off each other. The Heat defense picked up as they forced Indiana to the outside, creating more transition opportunities. Then Haslem started nailing open jumpers off of passes from Wade and LeBron off the doubles, and it was 2-2 headed back to South Beach.
The stat-line from James is something you see from a lotto drawing: 40-18-9. 40 points, 18 rebounds, nine assists. (Wade had 30-9-6 for good measure), and they still nearly lost to a Pacers team not at all ready to cave in! That's the fine line these Heat walk game-by-game.
It's the type of performance that gives you the faintest glimmer of hope that the Heat just might pull it all off this year, even with the Spurs and Thunder seemingly playing on a different plane of hoops. If LeBron can play like that four out of seven times in a series and have his game complementing Wade's, everything is on the table. James provides that hope against even the mightiest of foes.
If James is to get these Heat, these seriously flawed and deficient Heat, back to the Finals (much less pull a shocker against the behemoths of the West), he's going to have to keep coming for it, keep on throwing up ridiculous numbers, keep on adjusting to what the Pacers will probably throw at him and Wade on Tuesday night once they realize how Miami attacked them away from the ball.
Miami is not dominant enough to wrest away control from this series, not while James Jones and Shane Battier are clanging threes and Mike Miller is hobbling like a geriatric. Miami runs two deep with an occasional helping hand from a third or fourth player, and each win will only come harder the further they go. No one is going to bow down to Miami's talent like last year. The Heat are wounded, and they're not going to get any better.
James has to keep on playing superhero, and Wade has to be right there with him. The only chance he and Miami have got is making sure those capes are on the rest of the way.