CLEVELAND (92.3 the Fan) – LeBron James missed a windmill dunk in the first quarter, prompting early drafts of numerous think-pieces on the King’s impending trip to retirement.
Then in the third quarter, the 32-year-old stripped a ball loose from Brooklyn Nets center Tyler Zeller, but forcing a collision with his face and the former Cavalier’s head simultaneously. James retreated to the locker room, receiving stitches for a laceration above his lip.
When he returned, LeBron seemed anew, though in a manner that he has been his whole career.
James scored 23 points in the 4th quarter, going 7-of-8 in the final 12 minutes, including 3-of-4 from deep en route to a comfy 119-109 win.
While there is plenty of reason to believe that it was the stitching up that caused the King to usurp power from his opponent, the reason may have actually been the clanked dunk.
In a game that went to the Nets in the reverse fixture, the Cavaliers were in a position to take control, 20-10, in the early going. Instead, James wound up to give his home crowd something to remember, which they wound up remembering for the wrong reasons.
Following the error, James launched a 3-pointer that went awry, and missing another after that. The Nets finally seized the opportunity with a Joe Harris triple, turning the potential 10-point lead into a 5-point swing.
Head Coach Tyronn Lue, like any coach, said it did not sit well with him.
“Good,” Lue said when asked about his star being popped in the mouth. “Because he was messing around. I told him at halftime he was messing around, he got a little upset, and that’s good. Get hit again.”
James seemed unmoved when told of his coach’s post-game comment, though the game’s best player did not contest the idea.
“I mean, whatever T-Lue says, goes,” he said. “He knows how to challenge me sometimes.
“After the dunk, when I came down and pulled up from 3, that was a bad shot. I felt like the other one was a bad shot, the one in the corner against the big. We called a timeout after that point, and it kind of took the life out of the team. I know it starts and ends with me, so I’ve got to be better, which I was. I was a lot better in the second half.”
It should not have taken a string of events to awaken James, but it may have been just that.
It was not just their leader who took a step back following the botched slam, rather the entire team, as they nonchalantly watched the Nets build a seven-point lead by half. The miss led to the lecture from Lue, which led to the intensity, which led to the stitches.
If it were the lecture or the stitches, we will never know, but James proved one thing yet again.
When motivated, LeBron James can erase an inferior opponent almost by himself, whether he wanted to admit that or not.