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LeBron James is dominating the Warriors with his mind

The King's greatest attribute isn't his brute strength. It's his brain.

SB Nation's 2015 NBA Finals Guide

After LeBron James intercepted a Warriors inbound pass with 51 seconds left, he pointed to his head. That play and that gesture reminded us of one essential point.

For all of the brute force LeBron brings, for all of the physical pounding he laid on Harrison Barnes and Andre Iguodala in the post, the lightning quick first steps he whipped on Draymond Green, the flat-out inhuman burst he showed on that spectacular alley-oop -- for all of that graphic physiological domination he exudes, his most powerful weapon remains his brain.

This is a statement many will dispute, and some will point to this NBA Finals series as direct evidence of its falseness. After all, as I noted on Tuesday, plenty of observers think LeBron isn't actually playing well offensively because he's shooting a much lower percentage than we are accustomed to seeing from our greatest stars. In this view, that LeBron scores at all is due to his physical advantages. His God-given combination of size, speed, agility, strength and leaping ability -- a beautiful DNA stew -- makes another 40-point night almost expected by some, even if the Warriors are hitting him hard and the Cavaliers' offense is otherwise malformed.

All of those physical attributes, though, don't mean much without a brain to put it all to maximum advantage. LeBron's had that powerful brain for much of his career and especially this season.

It has been widely assumed that LeBron is calling the shots on offense at this point. The thought goes that while David Blatt retains control over lineups, the defensive scheme and after-timeout plays, LeBron is making offensive play calls on the fly. It's less that he's making play calls as he is getting to a spot and calling for the ball and perhaps a screen. In the new age of the NBA, where threes, crisp ball movement chains and off-ball motion reign supreme, LeBron's offense looks strikingly primitive. Given his relatively low shooting percentage for running those types of old-school plays, one can understand how LeBron's decisions to grind it down could be considered less than smart.

Three games in, though, and you see the strategy take shape. You catch a theme: this is not so much a concession that the Cavaliers must play this way without a full complement of players. It's LeBron's plan.

There are so many supplemental benefits to grinding the game to a halt and pounding the ball as LeBron has. The Cavaliers don't really have anyone other than J.R. Smith and LeBron, who have a history of creating offense, so the LeBron grind game keeps the pressure off players like Matthew Dellavedova and Iman Shumpert. (Dellavedova has been fearless but erratic with the ball. Thank goodness he hit LeBron for that late alley-oop, else he may have been banned from ever attempting another lob.)

It also allows Dellavedova to rest while on his feet: he's been so active chasing Stephen Curry and diving to the floor that any moment of pause must feel like relief. It has the effect of wearing down specific defenders charged with guarding LeBron, particularly Harrison Barnes (ineffective on offense for the most part) and Andre Iguodala (perhaps Golden State's best performer in the series). If you listen close, you can hear the beat to "Shook Ones (Part II)" looping underneath LeBron's isolation windups.

Along these lines, there's a sense that Draymond Green's inability to do anything whatsoever to slow LeBron has punctured his once impermeable air of confidence. LeBron is exhausting and deflating some of the most important Warriors.

Most importantly, though, LeBron's current style is changing the very complexion of the game to something the Warriors do not want. Golden State's offense is most deadly in chaotic environs, when the opposing defense cannot get settled. This is true of most teams, of course: transition defense is a massive bogeyman for coaches for a reason. But the Warriors' particular deadliness is how they manufacture open threes out of transition, especially with trailers or cross-matches.

That avenue has been non-existent because LeBron's offense has slowed the game to a crawl. Tristan Thompson or Timofey Mozgov crashes the offensive boards, while everyone else gets back. Dellavedova picks up Curry around midcourt and does his level best to stay in whispering distance for the entire set. Shumpert and Smith did a good job on Klay Thompson in Game 3, and Green has been a shadow, lacking the assertiveness that made him so dangerous all season.

The Grizzlies tried to do this to the Warriors, too, and it worked through Game 3. It's easy to assume the Warriors will break out of their slumber and break the chains LeBron has put them in. That's what the Warriors do, right? You can only keep them quiet so long, then it's one three, and another, and another and you look up and you're down 20 and you look up again before the series is over.

No disrespect to those Grizzlies, but as Paul Flannery noted, they didn't have LeBron. Golden State's salvation in Memphis was to go smaller and faster and force the Grizzlies to match up. By doing so, the Warriors regained control of how the series would be played. The Spurs did that to a LeBron-led team last year as well by playing flawless team ball that constantly had Miami flummoxed. There's a blueprint here for Golden State to storm back and knock LeBron from between them and the O'Brien Trophy.

But there's LeBron pointing to his brain, reminding you that in addition to all of his heroic grace and power, he has the mental fortitude, the knowledge and the experience no one in the league can match. You watch LeBron close out Game 3 in the way he did and you believe that all of this -- the Kobe-style offense, the new addiction to basketball prehistory -- is a part of LeBron's grand plan to carry Cleveland to glory and etch his name next to those of Russell and Jordan. You consider this is all LeBron's doing, and you wonder what he's going to pull next.

And you marvel at one of the most extraordinary figures we will ever see.

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