Posted: Friday June 8, 2007 2:09AM; Updated: Friday June 8, 2007 5:15PM
See, this is what happens when you score the last 25 points in the previous round. The Spurs thought they had seen everything, and then they saw LeBron do that. "Our guys all had a chance -- because we were done with our series -- to watch that performance, and to realize we were going to be facing somebody we hadn't faced before,'' said Spurs guard Brent Barry. "Our coaches relished finding a way to shut him down.''
And now that they've succeeded?
"It's ridiculous: You can't talk about him being Superman one day and then talk about him being Clark Kent the next,'' said Barry.
This was a more extreme version of James' opening game in the conference finals against the Pistons, when he opened with 10 points while going 5-for-15 and was damned for making a sound pass to wide open Donyell Marshall at the end of regulation. The one alarming difference for Cleveland is that James usually siphons field goals off to teammates, but in this case the Spurs limited him to four assists. Duncan, Fabricio Oberto and everyone around them were hyperactively aware of preventing the Cavaliers from cutting around James.
The hope that Cleveland can take forward is the quick learning curve of their young star. Just as he transformed from a 10-point scorer in the opener of the Eastern finals to score 29 of his team's last 30 points the following week in Game 5, so will he adapt over the next few games. He doesn't necessarily have to go for 48 against the Spurs either: An efficient 21-point, 11-assist performance should give Cleveland a chance to even the series on Sunday.
Look, the Spurs are bigger favorites than ever to win this thing. But Cleveland's defense and the performances of Daniel Gibson (16 points), Drew Gooden (14), Sasha Pavlovic (13) and Anderson Varejao (10) kept it respectable, and when James hit successive 3s in the fourth, the Cavaliers were suddenly making a run. Had James converted another three they would have been within 5 points with 1:12 remaining.
"I think our coaching staff is very aware of what happened in Game 1,'' said James. "I think our players are very aware of what happened in Game 1 and we'll make an adjustment. It's not like we haven't been in this situation before.''
He's on the right track there: This isn't being in the NBA Finals for the first time. Instead it's about referring back to the last time he was frustrated. His recent history in those situations is, at the very least, provocative.