We all knew LeBron James was capable of playing this way. Since entering the league directly out of high school, he has suffered the consequence of possibly being over hyped, with many prone to placing James among the all time greats before he ever donned an NBA jersey.
Now he may be cashing in on all of that immense potential.
And that spells problems for the Celtics, as they head to Miami tomorrow night for a decisive game 7.
LeBron answered the aggressive defense of the Celtics by hitting 19 of his 26 field goal attempts en route to 45 points. That’s not even to mention the fact that James had 15 rebounds. At 6’8″ 260 pounds, James has the strength to pull down boards like that, and given the Celtics lack of interior presences, keeping James off the offensive boards is a must. Though James had only 2 offensive rebounds in the game six Heat win, he is capable of fighting to the boards and getting the Heat a lot of second looks, or even following his own shot, something James does very well.
Can the Celts slow LBJ? I think they can, but it is going to take a concerted team effort, not to mention still making sure to pay adequate attention to shooting guard Dwyane Wade. Wade managed just 17 points in game 6, but the fact remains: it was enough. Outside of James and Wade, no other Heat player even managed double figures.
The Celts are hoping that countering with the dominance of Rajon Rondo at the point will be enough, but it seems like James has waited his entire career for an opportunity like this. It just seems like it is his time, and though the Celts took a 3-2 lead in the series, no one really counted Miami out, not with The King still doing his thing and fighting his way to the hole for strong finishes. James finishes as well as anyone in the league, and when he takes it to the hole, “and 1s” are a likely scenario, as fouling James sometimes does little to slow him down. Fortunately, he has been missing his free throws. James shot just 5 of 9 from the floor in game 6, but as I said, you can’t resort to fouling him because often a hard foul isn’t enough to discourage him from getting a good look, nor attacking the basket further.
It all spells trouble for Boston, and it seems when the best counter to LeBron James is the defense of Mickael Pietrus, there are going to be problems. I’m not saying Pietrus is a bad defender — at all — but he lacks the physical gifts he once had in his days with the Warriors and Magic and he has deteriorated to the place of a spotty role player, counted upon more to hit a few threes than play lock down defense. We all know Paul Pierce will have his troubles with James.
So where do the Celts go? How do they counter James?
As I said, a team effort is a must, and Doc Rivers must allow Kevin Garnett to set the tone and get his teammates into the right positions on the court. Rondo may be the point guard on defense, but it is Garnett whose defense has made the Celtics into the formidable team they are.
No one expected the Celts to do this as a 5 seed, but it appears they could make the NBA Finals. It just all depends on how James can be countered, and I’ve reached no conclusion as to how that can be done. James may score 50 in game 7 and solidify himself as an all time legend.