UPDATED: He's worth that $14.5 million now, Florida. Just look at LeBron James when Miami needs him most. Does anybody think he isn't the star of the hottest rock band on the NBA's 2011 stage?
LeBron, called the Sunshine State's 6-foot-8, 250-pound "best import of 2010," staggered during the regular season, but at just the right time, during three of Miami's last four playoff wins, he's made a dramatic turnaround and taken charge.
"A Hard Day's Night" for the Bulls, "Glad All Over" for the Heat. Like John Lennon did for the Beatles when some of his stoutest fans said he was slipping, LeBron showed his class and brought down the house.
"Someone had to do something," LeBron told the press after Wednesday night's game. "And I knew the ball was going to be in my hands."
But on Sunday, it was Chris Bosh who made 13 of his final 15 shots on the way to a 34-point night. James finished with 22 points and 10 assists, and the Heat remained unbeaten at home in the postseason by beating the Chicago Bulls 96-85 in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals on Sunday.
A 9-0 run in the fourth quarter helped Miami pull away for good and grab a 2-1 lead in the series.
"C-B had it going," LeBron said. "And when we have someone going on our team, we continue to give the ball to him and continue to feed off their energy offensively. And he brought it home for us tonight."
Dwyane Wade added 17 points and nine rebounds for Miami, which is 7-0 at home in the playoffs and handed the team that finished with the NBA's best record its first losing streak since Feb. 5-7. Udonis Haslem sealed it with a jumper with 1:29 left, putting Miami up 93-84.
Back in Chicago, in Game 2, despite suffering a debilitating head cold, LeBron rocked Chicago's United Stadium. He scored 9 of his game-high 29 points in the final 4:28 of Miami's 85-75 win, including the go-ahead 3-pointer. "King James" is delivering in the crunch.
If the Heat are going to win it all, they'll need Wade and Bosh at their best. But above all they'll need LeBron to come through as he did in Game 2, when the wind went out of the offense's sails.
hen, midway through the fourth quarter, Coach Erik Spoelstra called a timeout. He said later that he stood on the sidelines begging LeBron to suck it up, be a hero, summon the strength to get the series even at 1.
"I told him, 'You can't afford to get tired for us to have a chance to win. You have to be better, quicker, stronger than anyone else on the court.'"
Commentators remarked later that it wasn't only LeBron's shooting touch, it was his fitness -- he is considered one of the top-conditioned athletes in the game -- that made the difference in the last five minutes. His 3 made it 76-73. And he ultimately sent downcast Bulls fans to the exits after stealing the ball from Luol Deng and scoring with 91 seconds left.
Nobody is talking anymore about LeBron deferring to Wade in close games. Now they want to give the big man, the game's biggest star, the ball. They want him to do his thing. They want to set up that formidable one-two LeBron-Dwyane punch. They don't think the Bulls, good as they are, can match it.
Game 4 is Tuesday in Miami.
Reach Nancy Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (850) 727-0859.