Heading into Game 4 against the Brooklyn Nets, LeBron James had been laying low. The Miami Heat had been playing so well that they hadn’t had to call on James for peak production. But Monday night, he put together an offensive performance of monstrous proportions: James made two-thirds of his shots from the field and 14 of 19 free throws, piling up 49 points and tying his playoff career-high. The Heat now lead the series 3-1.
James had just two assists; he did most of the heavy lifting himself, and he did it by getting inside the defense. In addition to those 19 free-throw attempts, James was 11 of 12 on shots in the restricted area. Half of his 24 shots from the field came at the rim.
NBA.com’s SportVU Player Tracking statistics can help us quantify how often James drove to the basket and how effective he was once there. The table below shows his driving statistics in the regular season, in the playoffs through Game 3 of the Nets series and in Monday night’s Game 4. SportVU defines drives as any non-fastbreak touch that starts at least 20 feet from the hoop and is dribbled by a player to within 10 feet of the hoop. The points per drive include all points generated on his drives, so this would include a drive where James kicks it out to an open shooter or even a drive where the ball is swung around the perimeter two or three times before a shot is taken.
On Monday, James drove the ball more than twice as often as he has per game in the 2014 playoffs and significantly more often than he did in the regular season. The points generated off his drives were in line with the rest of his playoff performance and just a hair above his regular-season average. But every point generated on his drives Monday night was scored by James. Those drives weren’t for the purpose of bending the defense to create openings for his teammates; they were to score points.
Enormous point totals and absurd levels of efficiency have become the norm for James, but we saw him at the height of his powers — hyper-aggressive, bullying his way to the rim with a combination of power and speed, finishing with feathery grace. We haven’t seen much of this James in these playoffs because the Heat haven’t needed him. But he can still appear at any moment, and that doesn’t bode well for Brooklyn or the rest of the league.