Remember all the criticism the Miami Heat forward used to receive for not wanting to take a big shot? Remember when he got ripped for passing off late in games?
“It was always silly,’’ Heat forward Shane Battier said of that criticism. “At least in my mind it was.’’
For starters, James is more confident and a better player than he was in yesteryear. And there was no way he was going to pass the ball Wednesday night when the Heat were in peril.
James’ driving left-handed layup at the buzzer gave the Heat a 103-102 overtime win over the Indiana Pacers in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals at AmericanAirlines Arena.
“Once I got the ball, I was the only option,’’ James said. “I was the only option at that point. Especially with only being two-plus seconds. As unselfish as a player I am, I cannot, no way, try to make a pass at that point.’’
Of course, it helped James’ cause that Pacers coach Frank Vogel made a boneheaded decision. Instead of having 7-foot-2 center Roy Hibbert in the game to protect the rim, he had him on the bench.
Vogel was worried that if Hibbert had been in the game, mobile Heat center Chris Bosh might hit a jumper. Wait a minute. Vogel would rather have James driving relentlessly to an unprotected rim than Bosh put up an outside shot? Has word reached Indiana yet about how good James is now?
Well, at least Vogel admits next time he wouldn’t make that move.
“I would say we’ll probably have (Hibbert) in next time,’’ he said.
Nevertheless, James probably would have figured out a way to score even if the big fellow had been in the game. He had been working on floaters in practice Tuesday for possible use against Hibbert.
Wednesday offered an impressive duel between James and up-and-coming Pacers forward Paul George. James had a triple-double of 30 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists while George had 27 points and pair of plays that nearly doomed the Heat.
With .7 of a second remaining in regulation, George drilled a game-tying 3-pointer from somewhere near Key West to tie the score at 92 and force overtime. The official score sheet actually had it at 32 feet.
With 2.2 seconds remaining in overtime and the Heat up 101-99, George was fouled on a 3-point attempt by Dwyane Wade. He made all three free throws for a 102-101 lead.
But this is LeBron’s world these days. You had to know that he wasn’t going to get upstaged by a third-year guy who made his first All-Star Game last February.
“No matter how much you watch the game of basketball and no matter how much you played it, you get amazed by spectacular talent,’’ Wade said about James taking the inbound pass at the 3-point line and driving right past George for the bucket. “He continues to amaze I think the game of basketball, the world of basketball.”
James often does it with a yawn as if it’s all too easy. He hardly celebrated after making his winning shot.
“I mean, I made a layup,’’ James said. “It’s not like I made something halfcourt. I made a layup. I’ve been doing that since I was 8 years old.’’
At some point, though, it apparently wasn’t that easy. Everybody remembers the criticism James received prior to last season when he couldn’t win a title, especially when he shied away from taking shots in the fourth quarter during the 2011 Finals lost to Dallas.
Those days, though, seem long gone. James had 12 points in the fourth quarter and overtime Wednesday.
And remember those days when there actually was a question about who might take a last-second shot for the Heat, Wade or James? There’s no debate now, and that’s not because Wade actually had fouled out on the play that led to three George free throws. Everybody knew the ball was going to James when the game was on the line against the Pacers.
“I really wasn’t worried if Hibbert was in the game,’’ James said. “I was worried about trying to get a bucket for our team. … I knew I had enough time to get to the rim. Two-plus seconds is plenty of time. I only need one dribble to get to the rim.’’
James’ basket put a cap on a night in which he gave the Heat everything they needed. Going against the bigger Pacers, James was needed to do some more work inside.
James did just that, getting two more rebounds than his seasonal average. He also had three blocked shots.
“He has an all-everything role for us, and this is the norm,’’ Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “This may be what it takes to beat this team.’’
Whatever it takes, James seemingly will be able to do it. He recently won his second consecutive Most Valuable Player award and fourth overall, and it would be a surprise if next month he isn’t handed his second second straight Finals MVP trophy.
And all of this from a guy who once got roasted by the media for not taking over enough down the stretch?
“He’s an unselfish guy,’’ said Heat forward Udonis Haslem. “So I think he got criticized for being the best player in the world but also being unselfish and having a great basketball IQ. But he knows when to be aggressive and he knows when he needs to take over and when he needs to do what he has to do. There was no time to pass.’’
But there still was plenty of time for James to beat the Pacers.