Shortly after LeBron James scored the final 13 points in the fourth quarter Saturday night, holding off the feisty Memphis Grizzlies, Cleveland Cavaliers backup center Channing Frye said his teammate isn’t even in peak form.
“Well everyone was talking like, ‘Hey, this is not Playoff LeBron.’ Usually LeBron gives you about 60 percent. He’s about 80 percent LeBron and it’s looking effortless so pretty scary,” Frye said. “This is 80 percent engagement. He’s engaged on offense and defense. Tonight he didn’t have a lot of rebounds, but every night almost has a triple-double, he’s shooting the ball well, he’s seeing the game a lot better, he’s diverting to his teammates and that’s pretty scary.
“He adjusted today. They were double-teaming from the bottom so he moved to the elbow. Once he starts adjusting then he starts getting the ball screen-and-roll. You’re seeing post-up passing LeBron, post-up scoring LeBron, shooting 3’s LeBron. There’s a lot of different aspects of that. So when I say 80 percent I just mean that it’s engagement every single game.”
James has learned to pace himself over the years, focusing on the big picture while trying to gear up for the postseason. He has talked numerous times about the arduous 82-game schedule being a marathon, not a sprint. It’s clear James cranks it up to another level when the playoffs arrive. But 80 percent James in the regular season is still better than most.
On Saturday, he scored 34 points on 13-of-22 from the field and 0-of-3 from 3-point range. He made all eight of his free throws and dished out 12 assists while grabbing a pair of rebounds, helping the Cavs extend the winning streak to 11 games with hard-fought 116-111 win.
After pouring in 15 points in the final period, James upped his league-leading crunchtime scoring average to 9.6.
“Thank God he’s on my team,” Frye said. “I don’t know what y’all told him or what he heard, but whatever zone he’s in, keep it.”
James likely has plenty of motivation this season. But I’m not quite sure where the media fits into that.
The Cavs came off another Finals loss to Golden State, which didn’t sit well with James during the summer. Kyrie Irving wanted out of Cleveland, in part because of James. The Celtics, led by Irving, had an NBA-high 16-game winning streak earlier this season and some proclaimed them as the Eastern Conference’s best team. An opportunity for a fifth NBA MVP shouldn’t be overlooked. Neither should the summer chatter about whether Golden State’s Kevin Durant had closed the gap on James.
No matter what it is, the Cavs have found their groove, with the reigning Eastern Conference Player of the Month leading the way.
“You just shake your head,” Dwyane Wade said of James. “It’s impressive, man. I’ve been around guys, I’ve been a guy. When you’re on a team and you have a guy that when the game gets close that you can give him the ball and he’s going to come through, maybe not all the time but it seems like every time, it just makes the game easier.
“It’s like a good football team having a great field goal kicker, all you have to do is get close enough. Bears fan, you know Robbie Gould was going to make it for us. It’s kind of like that. We know he’s going to make the right play. If it’s for him scoring the basketball like tonight, hitting the jumper, or when they double team, making the right pass. Guys have got to stay ready and do what they do. It makes the game a lot easier.”
On the season, James ranks second in points (28.3) and fifth in assists (8.7). He is shooting a career-best 58.3 percent from the field and 41.3 percent from 3-point range.
Meanwhile, the Cavs have turned their season around, moving into second place in the conference.
There have been a few times opponents have threatened to end Cleveland’s winning streak. Charlotte, Los Angeles, New York, Atlanta and Memphis have comes close. But each time, James has played an enormous role preventing it — just as he did during a dazzling fourth quarter against Memphis.
“Basically I knew something was going to happen (in the fourth quarter),” Frye said. “He was pretty locked in and when he’s like that I really have no doubt in my mind. If someone beats us and he’s locked in then give it to them, that’s on us. Usually when he’s locked in and he’s good we’re a pretty tough team to beat because where the lead horse goes the rest of us follow.”