LeBron James saved his best for the second half. When he wasn’t scoring, he was initiating. And when he wasn’t blocking shots, he was playing airtight defense on the league’s MVP. James scored 23 of his 35 points after halftime and his two defensive stands on Derrick Rose at the close of regulation helped push Miami to a tough 101-93 overtime win over Chicago at American Airlines Arena on May 25. The Heat now lead the Bulls 3-1 in the Eastern Conference Finals.

With Dwyane Wade struggling for most of regulation, James shouldered the load. The former MVP added six assists, six rebounds, three blocks and two steals to a remarkable night but two of his most memorable plays failed to record any statistics. With the game tied 85-85 with 53 seconds left in the fourth quarter, the Heat left James isolated one-on-one with Rose. After surviving a pair of fakes from the ultra quick Rose, James recovered just in time to contest and force a missed jumpshot from the MVP. On Chicago’s next trip down court, with the game still tied and only eight seconds remaining, James would go to work again, this time containing Rose’s crossover to force an airball from the Bulls point guard and force overtime.

“It’s extremely hard,” Rose told reporters after the game, “when a 6-foot-8-inch guy can easily defend you.”

Rose, who scored 23 points but shot just 8-of-27 from the field, was held scoreless by James in the final two periods, going 0-for-5 in the last 17 minutes of the game. In the extra period, Wade (14 points, 5-of-16 shooting) finally got it going. He scored six points in overtime and his strong defense down the stretch, including two blocks, helped Miami outscore Chicago 16-8 in the extra period. But although Wade was huge on the defensive end down the stretch, the biggest stops of the game nevertheless came from his teammate, James.

“It’s whatever it takes from myself and for our team,” James said. “If that means me playing 60 minutes and guarding D. Rose then I’ll do it. I don’t have a problem with that. I play both sides of the floor. I love defense much more than I do offense. I just take pride in that side on that side of the floor.”

Carlos Boozer and Luol Deng each scored 20 points for Chicago and Chris Bosh added 22 for Miami.

Game Five is Thursday, May 26 in Chicago at 8:30 p.m. Eastern Time.


Stephen D. Riley

Special to the AFRO