CLEVELAND — Awe is not a sensation with which NBA players are frequently acquainted. They rarely encounter others capable of their physical feats, let alone with the capacity for doing something they cannot. In this way, like so many other ways, LeBron James stands alone. He leaves teammates, some of the best athletes in the world, slack-jawed at his physical force and grace.
It happened again Friday night, in Game 4 of the NBA Finals. The Cavaliers could believe in beating the Golden State Warriors because they had James, like having your older brother around for a pickup game. James recorded another triple-digit, and running mate Kyrie Irving scored 40 points on a shot-making clinic. But one play stood above the rest, the one in which James briefly turned an NBA Finals game into his personal dunk contest.
“I mean, he’s a Gatorade baby,” J.R. Smith said. “He was made in a lab somewhere. There’s a lot of things he does that we can’t explain.”
In the third quarter, James led the break and drove past Klay Thompson into the lane. He planned to jump to draw Thompson close to him and kick to Kyle Korver, spotted up on the left wing. But when he leapt, Thompson drifted toward Korver and into the passing window.
James also noticed Draymond Green moving from the wing toward Tristan Thompson, and Thompson had his back to James, anyway, anticipating a rebound chance. In midair, he had run out of options. Or at least, he had run out of the options available to most players.
“He was like stuck in the air, and I was like, ‘throw it off the backboard,’ ” Korver said. “And he did.”
Just before James landed, he scooped the ball off the glass. He took two steps, exploded over Thompson and slammed the ball with two hands, over Thompson’s head.
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“He dunked on Tristan,” Smith said. “That was the craziest part.”
“I’m just glad it was my teammate,” Thompson said.
In the middle of the Finals, with his team’s season on the line and within the flow of the game, James had executed an alley-oop to himself off the backboard. It was a cocktail of quick thinking and ferocious athleticism few others are capable of.
“What the hell are you doing?” Smith said. “You see it in the park and stuff so much growing up. You never really think about somebody doing it in a Finals game, Game 4 when you’re down 3-0.”
“I guess when you can jump that high, you can make decisions in the air,” Korver said. “Amazing play. It was just like, ‘He’s covered, he’s covered, he’s covered, I’m in the air, what do I do? Okay.’ I feel like I saw Kobe do that once.
“I can’t imagine doing that.”
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