With intrigue and mystery hanging in the dim, distant Chicago air, LeBron James moved to redefine himself Wednesday night during Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals before a perplexed and agitated United Center crowd.
With the score knotted at 73-73 and baskets as hard to come by as jumpstarting the global economy, James, who for all his wonder and aplomb arguably has yet to solidify his reputation as a clutch performer, scored nine of the game’s final 14 points to propel the Heat to a series tying 85-75 win over the top seeded Bulls and league MVP Derrick Rose.
“Someone had to do something and I knew the ball was going to be in my hands” said James, still basking in the fortunes of a similar takedown of the defending Eastern Conference champion Boston Celtics during which his late game heroics again proved the difference. “I work on this everyday.”
If James, who finished with 29 points and 10 rebounds, was The Closer for the Heat, gritty, veteran forward Udonis Haslem, out most of the season with a foot injury, has to reign as The Enabler. Without Haslem’s 13 points, five rebounds and over all determined play Miami may have not been in the position to benefit so much from the exploits of James.
“He’s the player of this game,” Dwyane Wade said of the eight-year veteran who toiled 23 minutes after courting just seven overall in the Heat’s first nine playoff games. “We don’t win this game without him. That’s our warrior, our heartbeat of the team. And he showed it today.”
Also playing a key part was the Miami defense. Besides limiting the Chicago offense to a playoff low in points, the Heat harassed Rose into just 7 of 23 shooting, completely shutting off the lane on many of those acrobatic, high-flying layups he’s become revered for.
“They closed down the lane, but I missed a lot of shots I normally hit,” said Rose. “They just weren’t falling tonight. It was just one of those nights.”
Game 3 is Sunday night in Miami.--- Glenn Minnis