There isn't a sight much scarier than LeBron James with an opportunity to close out a playoff series.
This postseason, James and the Los Angeles Lakers are 3-0 in closeout games while James personally has won 16 of the last 17 closeout opportunities he's had, including six in a row. He'll have an opportunity to make it seven in a row when the Lakers take on the Miami Heat in Game 5 of the 2020 NBA Finals.
As for his mindset in such situations, it seems pretty simple: "be just as desperate as my opponent when I'm out there on the floor."
"My mindset is to be just as desperate as my opponent when I'm out there on the floor." @KingJames with @LakersReporter on his impeccable record in closeout games in the #NBAPlayoffs. pic.twitter.com/l1c9WMFlgn- Spectrum SportsNet (@SpectrumSN) September 13, 2020
This mindset has resulted in James averaging 34.3 points, 12.3 rebounds and 9.0 assists on 61.3% shooting in LA's three closeout games this postseason, which, unfortunately for Miami, have all come in Game 5.
|Game 5 vs. POR||36||14||19||73.7||10||10|
|Game 5 vs. HOU||29||9||18||50.0||11||7|
|Game 5 vs. DEN||38||15||25||60.0||16||10|
Most recently, "Closeout LeBron" rang off nine-straight points as part of a fourth-quarter takeover against the Nuggets to deliver Los Angeles its first conference title since 2010. It's not hard to tell when LeBron is in that kind of a zone - you can see it in his eyes and in the eyes of everyone else on the floor.
When the visibly demoralized Nuggets were forced to call a timeout following James' flurry, the Lakers crowded around their MVP, knowing that when he's in that mode, their team is unbeatable.
So what can we expect in Game 5 of the NBA Finals?
LeBron looking to match his opponent's desperation should give us an idea, as very few teams play with more desperation than Miami does on a nightly basis. By no means is that a knock on the Heat, either, they're simply a team that prides itself on having a collective chip on their shoulders.
Miami won't back down from LeBron but if he's truly able to play with an even greater level of desperation than we've already seen from him this postseason, it might not be prepared for what's to come.
James has taken pride in his role in leading the Lakers back to prominence and this closeout opportunity also represents fulfilling the mission that came with his decision to join Los Angeles on July 1, 2018.
LeBron telling reporters that he approached Game 4 as one of the biggest games of his career is proof of how much this title would mean to him. The proof was in his play, too, as he bounced back from a shaky start to score 20 second-half points in Game 4, while providing a few reminders that he is, in fact, LeBron James.
At this stage in his career, we've come to know LeBron as the player that works smarter in order to maximize his physical abilities for the long-term. Well, we've now reached the moment that he's been labouring so efficiently for: an opportunity to again display his innate ability to dictate a game for 48 minutes.
Just 48 minutes stand between the Laker's ultimate goal, LeBron's fourth NBA title and potentially his fourth Finals MVP.
When I think of the most iconic performances of James' 17-year career, I think of Game 6 in Detroit in 2007, Game 6 in Boston in 2012, Game 7 in Oakland in 2016 and Game 7 in Boston in 2018. While they weren't all closeout games, they each represent defining moments within James' ever-growing legacy.
It feels like soon, Game 5 of the 2020 NBA Finals in Orlando will be added to that list.
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