LeBron has his own Garden party
LeBron James answered Kobe Bryant's explosion with a huge game at MSG
LeBron secured his 52-point triple-double with a last-second rebound
The leading MVP candidates will meet Sunday when the Cavs host the Lakers
That's where Kobe Bryant, only two nights removed from becoming part of New York lore with a 61-point explosion, was dusting off the Raptors as James led his Cavaliers to a 107-102 victory [Recap | Box Score] with his own memorable Broadway show. And though James said after the game that his 52-point, 11-assist, 10-rebound evening was not spurred by Bryant's effort on Monday, it certainly was a response to the reigning MVP that James is coming not only for Kobe individually, but for the Lakers as a whole.
Kobe's record-setting night at MSG did more than grab the back pages of every New York tabloid; it served notice to the rest of the league that No. 24 is not ready to relinquish his MVP award or his status as the game's best player, two honors an increasing number of pundits seemed ready to deliver to LeBron with every Cleveland win this season. With a loaded frontcourt and a deep bench, though, Bryant appeared willing to play the beneficent teammate, handing out assists, taking his full rest on the bench each game as his young team developed an identity in concert with Bryant, not for him.
But with Andrew Bynum's injury has come questions about the Lakers' ability to win the title that eluded them last season. In the two games since the young center was declared out for the next 8-12 weeks, Kobe has responded with the ferocity that makes him the one man no wants with the ball in his hand with a game in the balance, tallying 97 points while keeping the Lakers on pace for home-court advantage should they reach the Finals.
For a time Wednesday, James demonstrated he also can be that guy, the guy who can take the measure of a David Lee at the top of the key before stepping back and swishing a three; the guy who can tally 20 points in the first quarter and 28 for a half while shooting 10-for-16.
"It was just the way I was feeling," James said after the game. "You always try to take what the defense is giving you and you try to be aggressive at times. I felt a few shots go in and I just tried to continue to work that hand and see if I was really hot, and I was able to knock a few shots down."
LeBron couldn't deny the urge to play facilitator, too. And so with Cleveland clinging to a one-point lead in the third quarter against the Knicks, James found Mo Williams and Wally Szczerbiak for open threes on back-to-back possessions. And a quarter later, with the Cavs up 2 in the final minute, James, already with 50 points, eschewed a shot for a quick pass into the post to Zydrunas Ilgauskas for an easy layup.
"I don't go out there for the numbers," James said after the game. "I play my game. You saw every phase of my game tonight; the scoring, the rebounds, the assists and the defense. If a [triple-double] happens, then great, but I never look at it that way."
James' dive for a final, and triple-double-clinching rebound (before which James admitted a teammate had told him would secure the feat), would seem to speak otherwise, especially to a rival he is scheduled to meet Sunday as the Cavs put their perfect home record on the line against the Lakers. But not everyone uses the same language, do they? Some, like Kobe, speak in a determined downpour of points; others, like LeBron, use more measured tones. Both have proved exceedingly effective for the players and their respective teams. Unfortunately for the Knicks, New York has been made into translator for each to speak to one another before they do so in person this weekend.
"The [Lakers] will probably get into Cleveland a day early, and I will try to reach out to [Kobe]," James said. "But it's going to be a good show."
We can only hope it's been as good as the first two acts this week have been.