LeBron James said he was excited after his Los Angeles Lakers had just finished Game 1 of the NBA Finals on Wednesday night, a 116-98 annihilation of the Miami Heat.
You just couldn’t tell it by looking at him. His face was stern, his smile non-present, his arms crossed across his chest. You could be forgiven for guessing he’d lost, not had a near triple-double — 25 points, nine assists and 13 rebounds — to grab a 1-0 Finals lead (Game 2 is Friday).
“I'm extremely amped up,” James said, although not sounding like it, “... to watch the film with our ballclub tomorrow.”
No better way to celebrate than looking for flaws in a game in which the Lakers were so dominant they, at one point, led by 32, thanks to a 75-30 run that overwhelmed Miami.
“I can’t wait until tomorrow, when we can get back together and watch the film and see some of the breakdowns we’ve had,” James insisted. “I can’t wait.”
This is LeBron’s 10th NBA Finals — his ninth since 2010. He has been here five times with Cleveland, four with Miami and now one with L.A. He has won three (two with the Heat), lost six (two with the Heat) and knows better than anyone that Adam Silver doesn't give out a trophy after Game 1.
Two years ago he left Cleveland to come to L.A, where the vaunted Lakers had fallen on hard times. Plenty of people wondered if he was chasing the weather, or business opportunities, or a lifestyle as he faded out his Hall of Fame career.
He said he was there to win. He has proven he was telling the truth.
So now in this most unusual of seasons — the Finals tipped off inside a pandemic-proof bubble at a Central Florida youth sports facility — here comes a very familiar NBA story, LeBron chasing a title. Everything changed this year, and yet nothing changed this year.
Maybe he can become the NBA’s Mr. October.
“We’ve got so much more work to do,” James said, cautioning against overconfidence. “The job is not done. We aren’t satisfied winning one game. It’s that simple.”
Maybe it’s life in the bubble, where the focus on basketball can be complete. Or maybe it’s missing the playoffs completely last year that added some extra fire. Or maybe it’s the understanding that at 35 years old, there are only so many more cracks at a championship to be had.
Whatever it is, LeBron James wants that fourth title desperately, and with a team full of matchup problems against a now injury-riddled Miami upstart, this championship is sitting there for the taking. So if he has anything to do with it, he’s going to take it.
James didn’t play great at the start of Game 1, but he played hard, setting the tone. And all the way to the end, with the game in the bag, you could still hear him calling out defensive assignments and demanding everything from his teammates.
The guy who gets to the Finals nearly every season knows more than anyone how fleeting it all can be.
“The best teacher in life is experience,” James said. “I've experienced moments in my career, Finals games, where you think you have everything under control.”
He went back into his memory, when he played for Miami.
“Game 2 of the 2011 Finals, Miami vs. Dallas, [Dwyane Wade] hits a 3 right by their bench, puts us up ,” James said.
Miami was 7:14 from taking a 2-0 lead. Instead, the Mavs rallied.
“From that moment Dallas went on a hell of a run,” James said. The Mavs would win the game. Then they’d win the series, 4-2. Just like that ... poof.
“That [expletive] burns me to this day,” LeBron said.
So a big Game 1 victory was meaningless. The fact that Anthony Davis (34 points) would have his way with a Heat team that may not have anyone who can defend him didn’t matter. Neither did Miami getting decimated by injuries on Wednesday (Goran Dragic, torn plantar fascia; Bam Adebayo, shoulder; Jimmy Butler, ankle).
Only Butler remained to play. He predicts he’ll be sore, but “I’ve got to be ready to go.”
Under the best of circumstances, Dragic and Adebayo could at least be slowed going forward against a Lakers buzzsaw that will show no mercy. At the worst … gulp.
James, however, would have none of that. He didn’t care about the blowout. He didn’t care about the injuries. He didn’t care about anything except keeping his team lasered in on winning the championship.
They’ve been in this bubble since July. They’ve been practicing and playing this “season” for an entire year. LeBron came to L.A. to win another championship, to hang a 17th banner in the Staples Center, to be a part of a tradition bigger than him.
Wednesday made it all seem closer than ever. Just don’t tell him. He doesn’t want to hear it. Yet.
“I’m going to watch some film tonight, individually,” LeBron said.
He can’t wait. You can’t blame him.
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