The inevitability of LeBron James

Mike Ehrmann

While we all focus on the Pacers' decision to sit Roy Hibbert on Miami's game-winning play, we're forgetting just how incredible a play LeBron James made.

LeBron James caught the pass with one foot beyond the 3-point arc and his momentum carrying him away from the basket. His back foot was roughly 24 feet from the basket, or about eight yards. James navigated the entire distance from catch to layup in less than 2.2 seconds.

Paul George took a bad angle. Sam Young was late rotating over. Roy Hibbert was on the bench shaking his head mournfully. Blah, blah, blah. LeBron James moved eight yards in less than 2.2 seconds with one power dribble and finished with his off hand.

We dissect and analyze everything with precision these days. We have video clips, pictures and gifs at our disposal mere seconds after something happens. Our statistics are more refined and precise. All of that is fascinating and the breakdowns delivered this morning were thorough and complete in a way that seemed inconceivable even two years ago. (Mike Prada's is excellent and well worth your time.)

INDY CORNROWS: Loss brings joy and pain

But we risk losing something in all that data. We risk losing touch with greatness, true greatness of the kind that allows a 275-pound human to move eight yards in less than 2.2 seconds with the fate of an incredibly important basketball game hanging in the balance.

Up until now, we remembered the indelible moments and left the nitty-gritty process to the grainy YouTube videos of history. Larry Bird stole a pass. Magic Johnson made a running sky hook. Michael Jordan left a trail of dead bodies and shattered dreams with every game-winning jump shot.

Never mind that Isiah Thomas made an incredibly poor decision or that the Lakers forced Kevin McHale to switch on to Magic. (God, 1987 was incredible.) Bird and Magic and Jordan made amazing plays that affirmed their place in history and passed into legend.

All of which is to say that on the morning after making one of the great plays of his career, one that will be a part of any career highlight package and retrospective, LeBron James is getting shortchanged.


Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

These playoffs have been something less than satisfying. Injuries have decimated the competition, from Derrick Rose to Rajon Rondo and Russell Westbrook. We had one seven-game series that was devoid of meaningful drama. Thank goodness for the Warriors, but outside of Stephen Curry's majestic shooting, this has been a long, slow trek toward an inevitable conclusion.

It's not that the Heat are so much better than everyone else. There's a lingering feeling of vulnerability in their inability to control the boards and in Dwyane Wade's tricky knee. But they have LeBron, and there is simply no one in his universe right now as a basketball player.

James started Game 1 by burying four of his first five shots. Three of them were on jumpers, and they were not of the kind that come from ball reversal and open looks. They were soul-crushing in-your-face shots that say, y'all may as well go home because there's nothing you can do about this.

LeBron was content to lay back a bit after his hot start. Part of that was some early foul trouble and part of that was the Pacers defense. But really, it was the kind of decision that James makes often.

He is not a 24/7 seek-and-destroy player like Jordan, which plays directly into his detractors' warped fallacies of his game. Instead, James seems to glide through periods of action, willing to set up teammates, grind it out on defense and allow the flow to come back to him. What his critics fail to realize is this is all by design and that at no point did the game get away from him.

What has separated him this season is a keener understanding of when to turn back into the most feared player on the planet. He did so in the third quarter, erasing a hard-fought Indiana advantage with a smooth 9-3-2 line that also featured a pair of momentum-turning blocks, including one on Roy Hibbert that only served as a secondary highlight.

The fourth quarter was a maelstrom of plot twists. Let's give credit to the Pacers, who will fight his thing out through the end. They are a young team coming to terms with their place in the league. Say what you will about their overall talent level, but they seem to have very short memories and no fear.

David West is a problem for Miami and so is Hibbert. Mercurial doesn't even begin to describe Lance Stephenson, who may throw up a wide-open airball or knock down a contested three. The Pacers are conventional yet unpredictable, which makes them dangerous. As if to encapsulate the whole Indiana experience, Paul George passed to a teammate who wasn't in the game the moment before he made a game-tying 30-footer.

For all the analysis, there was also the unexplainable. If Ray Allen makes both his free throws in regulation, neither George's epic shot nor LeBron's layup are ever recorded. It was a reminder that you can do everything right and the game is still left to the fates.

In the overtime, James made not just one, but two driving layups into the teeth of the Pacer defense. Hibbert was out of the game on both plays, a decision Indiana coach Frank Vogel will have to justify over and over again until Friday's Game 2. However the plays developed, they still needed to be made and LeBron made them.

He finished with 30 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists, and it's a measure of his greatness that we've become numb to that kind of stat line. Per Elias, only one other player in playoff history had a 30-10-10 line with three blocks: Ralph Sampson in 1986.

Yet again, LeBron did something few of us have ever seen before and he made it look frighteningly effortless at times. It's not, of course, and that's where he gets taken for granted.

You can parse this any way you want and dissect it a dozen different ways, but none of it changes the reality that LeBron James is inevitable. We do history a disservice by failing to recognize the moment for what it truly is.

More from SB Nation:

Prada: Would Hibbert have stopped LeBron?

Video: LeBron's game-winner | GIF: Hibbert shakes his head

NBA mock draft consensus: Noel to Cavs | SB Nation's Big Board

Cavs win the Lottery | Complete draft order

Longform: Basketball and chaos in Europe

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