CLEVELAND — It was in LeBron James’ eyes from the very start of Wednesday’s 106-91 victory over the Bulls. It was in his powerful stride, and in the angle of his sculpted torso as he lowered his head and drove to the basket with far more purpose than he’d displayed in Game 1.
You want to know why James’ Cavaliers are tied 1-1 — rather than down 0-2 — in this best-of-seven series? It has something to do with a turnover-laden start to Game 2 that Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau called “reckless.” And also with an early Bulls effort that Derrick Rose described as “nonchalant.” But let’s not kid ourselves.
This series is even heading back to Chicago because LeBron James decided that needed to happen. And then he simply made it happen, rolling fast and furious with 14 points, three assists and some overwhelming defense as the Cavs hit the Bulls with a 38-18 first-quarter avalanche. James scored 33 for the game.
“LeBron did a great job with playing hard right from the beginning, attacking the lane, changing the pace of the game,” Rose said. “For the leader of the team, that’s what you’re supposed to do. You have to take your hat off to him.”
It’s impossibly to quantify just how determined James was to prevent the Bulls from putting stranglehold on this series. Or is it? He shot the ball 29 times in Game 2, his highest number of attempts since March 1 and his third-highest since returning to Cleveland prior to the season.
But let’s look at this with an even wider lens: James hasn’t taken that many shots in a playoff game since all the way back in 2009. That’s pre-Miami Heat days, folks.
With star forward Kevin Love out with an injury and J.R. Smith suspended again for Game 2, James’ teammates — particularly young point guard Kyrie Irving — implored him to carry them.
“I’ve never been a high-volume shooter,” he said, “but I have to respond to my teammates.”
And now? Now, we wait to find out if James will flash the inconsistent side that has held him back in some postseasons — or if he’s going to keep his head down and dare the Bulls to find a way to stop him. Not that the Bulls don’t have a say in this.
“You need your whole team to be committed. He’s a tough cover,” Thibodeau said. “If you’re not tied together, he’s going to make you pay. And he did.
“[But] I think we can do a lot better. And we’re going to have to.”
James is, of course, far more than a jaw-dropping athlete. He’s as basketball-smart as anyone in the league. Taking over a must-win game seemed to flip a switch inside his head, too.
“I know how the [series] is going to be played now,” he said. “I know what they like to do, what they love to do and what they don’t like to do.”
Gee, is that all?
LeBron arrived in a big way in Game 2. Yep, it’s a series now. Did anyone really think it wouldn’t be?