The Cleveland Cavaliers were in a dogfight with the Denver Nuggets on Wednesday night. The Cavaliers had already coughed up a 13-point second-half lead and were hanging on for dear life as the game entered its final minutes. The offense was sputtering and had just been bailed out by multiple broken-play 3-pointers to keep a slim advantage.
Then LeBron James promptly fried and devoured the Nuggets.
In the final two minutes, LeBron scored nine points on four consecutive possessions to turn a slim 104-102 lead into a 113-108 victory. His four buckets down the stretch were his first field goals since the midway point of the third quarter, when it looked like Cleveland might run Denver out of its own building.
All four of LeBron’s clutch baskets were particularly savage. On the first one, he burned Wilson Chandler off the dribble and barreled into Nikola Jokic’s chest before finishing the and-1, though he missed the free throw:
After the Nuggets responded to make it a two-point game again, LeBron casually walked into a 3-pointer after a pair of screens at the top of the key and calmly drained the jumper.
Then things got real nasty. LeBron’s final two baskets looked almost identical, with The King knocking down back-to-back high-arcing fadeaways on the left side of the court:
There is nothing the Nuggets can do about that. Forcing it out of LeBron’s hands may be a better alternative, but you can live with him taking running fadeaways at the end of the shot clock. Sometimes you just have to tip your cap.
While the Cavaliers have had their problems this season, LeBron included, crunch-time brilliance hasn’t been one of them. The Cavaliers rank second in the NBA in “clutch” offense, scoring 117.5 points per 100 possessions in the last five minutes of the fourth quarter/overtime when the score margin is five points or fewer. James is the biggest reason why.
LeBron is, by far, the most proficient crunch-time player this season. In 127 clutch minutes, he has scored 161 points on efficient 55.4 percent shooting. Those 161 points are 19 more than the next closest player, which is former teammate Kyrie Irving. James’ 25 clutch assists place him tied for second in the league with Russell Westbrook, with only Jrue Holiday’s 30 ahead of them.
These latest daggers were the finishing touches on another tour de force King James performance. While he didn’t quite set a new personal record for triple-doubles in a season, he still finished with 39 points on 15-of-25 shooting along with 10 assists and eight rebounds. He also knocked down five of the eight 3-pointers he attempted. Four missed foul shots were the only notable blemish on his scorecard.
The Cavaliers are still working through their problems and trying to figure out ideal roles for their new players. Wednesday’s win over the Nuggets showed both the good and the bad of their revamped roster, and it also highlighted the need for Kevin Love’s return to bolster their offense when LeBron isn’t on the floor.
Having that LeBron guy can mask so many deficiencies. His dominance is why so many still see the Cavaliers as the favorite in the East, even with a flawed team that doesn’t look as complete as the teams currently sitting atop the conference.