LeBron James 2.0: How the Heat star dominated in all facets in Game 5

Streeter Lecka

LeBron James said he "went back to his Cleveland days" to lead Miami to a Game 5 win over Indiana, but a look at second-half film shows just how much he's evolved since then.

After vanquishing the Indiana Pacers nearly all by himself in a 90-79 Game 5 victory, LeBron James declared that he "went back to his Cleveland days" to get the Miami Heat the win.

He was speaking generally, of course. In Cleveland, James was forced to carry a subpar supporting cast all by himself. In this series, thanks to Dwyane Wade's nagging injuries and Chris Bosh's ineffective play against the massive Roy Hibbert, James has often been forced to carry a subpar supporting cast all by himself.

But I'm going to take issue with James' statement in this respect. He didn't really go back to his Cleveland days to get this Game 5 win. He actually moved forward, carrying Miami while being deployed in a completely different way than he was several years ago.

More Game 5 coverage: Hot Hot Hoops Indy Cornrows

The LeBron James that dazzled in Cleveland was not the LeBron James we saw on Thursday night. LeBron 1.0 was succeeding at the top of the key, flashing the kind of playmaking skills and dribble-drive capability that few had ever seen in the league. But that LeBron James still managed to leave us a little unsatisfied. Why was someone that big and strong operating so far from the basket? Why couldn't he affect the game closer to the hoop?

In this series, though, we've seen the full growth of LeBron James 2.0, a process that began last season. In Game 3, James parked himself on the low block and dominated Indiana from the post. In Game 5, though, he shifted to the pinch post, the area at the top of the key between the elbow and the three-point line. From there, he acted as the hub of the offense, both with his scoring and in other ways.

By moving James to the pinch post, Miami was able to capitalize on his versatility. On a basic level, this got James easier shot attempts because he was a few steps closer to the rim. Here, he takes advantage of George Hill picking him up on a switch and gets to his left for a layup before Roy Hibbert can react.


Here, James runs a pick and roll with Udonis Haslem from the elbow, and Paul George, scared that James will beat Indiana's help defense to the rim, goes under the screen, ceding an open 17-foot jumper.


Here, James curls off a down screen by Chris Bosh, gets his shoulders by George and takes one step for the lefty layup.


Finally, here's James starting in the high post, running a pick and roll with Dwyane Wade to force a switch and shooting over the shorter Lance Stephenson on a wing isolation.


But putting James in the high post allowed him to affect the game in many more ways than scoring. Sure, it made it easier to get to the rim, but the real genius of James' second half was in his screening. James couldn't count on his teammates to step up on their own, and having him try to drive and dish to them wasn't working either, so he opened up chances by doing what most consider to be dirty work.

Here's a compilation of James' screens in the second half.


James got credit in the box score for some of these, but not for others. For example, he got no stats on this play at 7:28 of the fourth quarter despite initiating the play from the pinch post.

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... screening for Norris Cole to drive.

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... rolling quickly to the rim to receive a pass before George recovers.

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... drawing Hibbert.

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... and kicking out to Wade in a way that allows him to drive baseline past Lance Stephenson and to the rim.

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Wade was the only player that received any sort of credit in the box score for that sequence, but without James' versatility while operating in the pinch post, the play never would have developed.

You see a similar story on this play with 2:15 left in the third quarter. The Heat run the Ray Allen Play with James as the screener. After the Pacers stop Allen's cut, James sets a screen for Mario Chalmers.

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... rolls down the lane once the Pacers trap Chalmers.

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... draws Hibbert off the hot-shooting Haslem in the right corner.

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... and enables Chalmers to then feed Haslem for the open shot.

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Haslem got the two points and Chalmers got the assist, but James was the reason the play opened up. There are so many other examples in the above video of James creating opportunities for teammates with his screening, either directly opening up shots or creating lanes for a ball-handler to drive and dish to a third player for a good look.

Read all of Mike Prada's NBA play breakdowns

This is why James' best attribute is his versatility. He's capable of doing so many things on the court, allowing his team to find an answer every time they enter a tough spot. We know about his ability to create offense at the top of the key and in transition. In Game 3, as he did in last year's NBA Finals, LeBron took to the low post to get Miami what it needed. In Game 5, it was the pinch post, where James sprinkled in points from the triple threat, passes to open teammates and screens to get others going. He was the hub of Miami's offense from the elbow, essentially playing the same role as Marc Gasol in Memphis.

Toss in all the other points he scored, and you see why he's the best player on the planet. By moving his game to a different spot on the court, James was able to have a significantly better game than even his gaudy 30/8/6 stat line suggested.

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