It was a 30 and over night on Monday during the NBA Playoffs. For those who didn’t burn “Many Men” onto a blank CD, and dance with a crush to “Into You,” the night wasn’t for you. The evening began on Biscayne Bay in Miami with 33-year-old Jimmy Butler dropping 56 points on the Milwaukee Bucks. It ended in LA Live with LeBron James — gray in his beard and all — pacing the Los Angeles Lakers to a 117-111 victory against the Memphis Grizzlies.
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James only attempted two field goals in the first quarter, although he did snatch six defensive rebounds. He may not be the battery-powered pogo stick that he was even six years ago, but when he has the ball in his hands the game stops. It’s how he can lob a perfect pass to an opposite corner to give Jarred Vanderbilt an ideal 3-point attempt.
At 38 years old he can be the legendary James who can make whatever play is necessary, but he also is well aware that he can only hit that turbo button so many times in a game. He led the Lakers in field-goal attempts in Game 4, but of his 18, seven came from the 3-point line. What James can always do as well as anyone else in the NBA these days is use his body to his advantage.
The first eight years of his career he was criticized for wasting that talent. Sure once he turned his shoulders there was no stopping him from getting to the basket, but James was not regarded as a banger. On Monday, he used that 1990s power-forward body to beat up a long and active Grizzlies’ frontcourt all night for 20 rebounds.
Of those 20, he grabbed nine in the fourth quarter. Four were offensive, and three came on two of the Lakers’ first three possessions of the quarter. Those boards only resulted in four points for the Lakers, but they also kept the ball out of the Grizzlies’ hands for long stretches of time. James also used that frame to take two charges — using one of the worst rules in the NBA to his advantage — against Ja Morant.
Then when it came time for James to hit that turbo button, he used it wisely twice. Once was at the end of the fourth quarter when shielded his layup from Defensive Player of the Year Jaren Jackson Jr. and Xavier Tillman to tie the score. The other was in overtime when he bullied Dillon Brooks and Tillman to put the Lakers up five with 29.4 seconds remaining — essentially ending the game.
Not efficient, but he got the job done
This was far from the most efficient night of James’ career. He has shot 50.5 percent from the field during his 20-year regular season career — 49.5 percent in the postseason. James shot 44.4 percent from the field on Monday and went 1-for-7 from the 3-point line.
His passing was just as breathtaking as it always is, but what he did best was run the Lakers’ on-court operation. That shot of life that D’Angelo Russell gave the Lakers in the fourth quarter with three consecutive 3-pointers, for a bit, looked like it would be for naught after he fouled out of the game. Rui Hachimura got his dunk blocked with 10.8 seconds remaining and the Grizzlies went on to take a two-point lead.
On the Lakers’ final possession of regulation, James held the ball on the perimeter the same way he did most of that quarter before making the play his team needed. As the Lakers were sucking wind in overtime, James held the ball out there for most of the period to try and preserve as much wind and also run out as much clock as possible. Then when it was time to end the game, he didn’t so much turn the lights out as he did rip the plug out of the socket.
From one coast to the other it was Old School Night on Monday. And just like Butler, James left the opposition spinning like a turntable on the way to a 3-1 series lead.