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NBA AM: LeBron James Delivers in Clutch
Posted By Alex Kennedy On June 15, 2012 @ 8:59 am In All,Main Page,NBA | No Comments
Hate him or love him, there’s no denying that LeBron James delivered when the Miami HEAT needed him most during Game 2 of the NBA Finals. As the Oklahoma City Thunder fought back after trailing by as many as 17 points, it was James who stepped up in the fourth quarter and sealed the win.
In the past, James has disappeared in the clutch and opted to defer in the final quarter. However, on Thursday night, he took over the game and left his fingerprints all over Miami’s victory. Every time the Thunder made a basket and shifted the momentum in their favor, James snatched it back.
With 1:25 remaining in the game and just seconds after Russell Westbrook delivered a ferocious put-back dunk that got the home crowd fired up and brought the Thunder within three points, James hit a difficult bank shot that kept Miami in the driver’s seat.
“It was a broken play, but he did what great players do,” Erik Spoelstra said. “He created something out of nothing. It was a heck of a shot.”
With seven seconds remaining, James was sent to the free throw line. The score was 98-96, which meant James could either deliver two daggers or keep the Thunder alive. In a hostile environment with the game on the line, James was surprisingly calm and collected. He knocked down both free throws, finishing the game 12-12 from the charity stripe.
James, at least temporarily, dispelled the notion that he’s not clutch.
This isn’t the same player that we saw one year ago. After averaging just 17.8 points in last year’s Finals, James has had two straight 30-point performances in this series. On Thursday, he had a Finals career-high 32 points. After shrinking in the moment last year, James is rising to the occasion this time around.
“In a big game like this, on a big stage like this, every point matters,” James said. “I’m happy that I was able to make a few plays and make my free throws. We needed it. We needed every point tonight.”
James refused to go any further into his individual performance or use this game as a statement.
“We want to make plays to win basketball games, not to answer any questions or respond to what people have to say about us,” James said.
Not only was James making plays on the offensive end, he chose to guard Kevin Durant during the game’s final minutes. James had received some criticism after Game 1 for not asking to defend Durant, but he made it clear that he wanted the challenge in Game 2. Spoelstra said that the decision for James to guard Durant was “mutual” and, controversial contact aside, he did a good job.
“I want to guard the best in the biggest point of the game,” James said.
“He was doing it on both ends, as he has been doing all season long,” Spoelstra said. “He’s a two-way player. He’s been doing it in so many different ways during this playoff run. Rebounding, making defensive plays, attacking the basket, making big threes. He’s at that point right now where he’s willing to do whatever it takes.”
James seems much more confident now than he was during his previous two trips to the Finals. After Thursday’s win, he was asked what it feels like when he gets into a rhythm and becomes seemingly unstoppable.
“I don’t think there’s any one guy who can guard me,” James said with a shrug. “I’m always looking at the next line of defense and seeing the rotation that’s coming. I don’t think there’s any one guy you can put on me and allow to be on an island, who can defend me one-on-one.”
This postseason, there have been three occasions when Miami trailed in a series – down 2-1 to the Indiana Pacers, down 3-2 to the Boston Celtics and down 1-0 to the Oklahoma City Thunder. James has been phenomenal in each of those games, scoring 40 points, 46 points and 32 points.
Throughout the playoffs, James has come up big for Miami, with Game 2 being the latest example. However, until James is hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy, his critics won’t be silenced.
Weems Drawing Interest: Sonny Weems was the first player to sign abroad during the lockout and he spent the duration of the season in Lithuania. Now, after playing very well overseas and expanding his game, Weems is ready to return to the NBA and test free agency.
Weems will be a restricted free agent on July 1. Several teams have already started to express interest in the 25-year-old, including the Boston Celtics, Los Angeles Clippers, Cleveland Cavaliers and Detroit Pistons.
The Toronto Raptors can match any offer that Weems receives, but the team hasn’t given any indication that he’s part of their plan going forward.
“I was able to improve my game overseas and now I can’t wait to come back,” Weems told HOOPSWORLD. “I’m really excited about getting back to the league. That’s all I’ve been thinking about every day. I keep thinking, ‘July 1, July 1, July 1.’ I’m looking forward to that free agency period so that I can find myself a new home in the NBA. I’m very excited.”
“I haven’t heard anything (from the Raptors),” Weems said. “It doesn’t matter to me either way. My agent, Roger Montgomery, has been talking to many different teams and a lot of them are very interested. I’m just very excited for free agency. If I don’t go back to Toronto, it wouldn’t be a heart breaker for me because it gives me a chance to start over and join another team.”
Up Close With Moe Harkless: During the 2012 NBA Draft Combine, Moe Harkless helped his stock significantly by shooting the ball extremely well and impressing teams in interviews.
The 19-year-old left St. John’s after one season in which he averaged 15.5 points and 8.8 rebound and earned Big East Rookie of the Year honors. Harkless is an exceptional athlete with great size (6′ 8.75) and length (7’0 wingspan) for a small forward.
He has spent the last few months working out at the IMG Basketball Academy, improving his jump shot and playing against other prospects such as Kendall Marshall, Kevin Murphy, Bernard James and Darius Johnson-Odom.
Right now, Harkless is projected as a mid first-round pick, but several lottery teams have worked him out in recent weeks.
HOOPSWORLD caught up with Harkless in Chicago and discussed the pre-draft process.
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