So, LeBron James blocked a layup. Big deal. No, really. Whoop-dee-doo. Hopefully, all the pats on the back he is getting for that one jaw-dropping play ease the pain of losing the actual game.
James’ open-court block on the Pacers’ George Hill was impressive. The sequence has been parsed endlessly and admired with oohs and aahs, while Hill has become something of a joke for foolishly attempting a soft, finger-roll layup against the king of the transition block. The play was another display of dominance by the world’s best player, just like his rejection of Roy Hibbert in Game 2 of this knock-down, drag-out Eastern Conference finals.
In a game the Heat also lost.
Pin, meet balloon.
This is the sort of thing we all used to criticize James for, and now we are guilty of it ourselves. Individual highlights and nifty displays of athleticism are cool, and James has been providing those for years. But at this point in the season, when all that matters is who wins and who loses, there is no use in celebrating those plays when, in the big picture, they occur in defeat. We can no longer blame James or “his generation,” those nebulous whipping boys, for this focus on inconsequential things, either. This one is on us.
Let’s try to reset this, then. The Pacers won Game 4. They are now tied with the Heat at two games apiece, each just two games away from reaching the NBA Finals. The greatest statement made in this series has not been James’ awesome moments of brilliance, but how the Pacers have responded to them. James has done the superhuman, yet rather than shrink in astonishment, the Pacers have responded. They have beaten James up, thrown different looks at him to confuse him and limited the effectiveness of his supporting cast. In short, they have done everything mortals need to do to counter gods.
That is the story here, not a couple incredible displays of athleticism. Honestly, how many people remember the things Goliath did before David took him down? They were probably pretty scary, otherwise nobody would have cared when David toppled him. Hibbert and Hill showed no fear, post-block, and that resilience oddly backfired and seemed to put the Heat themselves on their heels.
Lance Stephenson is fun to watch and Paul George is growing up before our eyes, but Hibbert’s maturation has been the most fun aspect to watch in this series. It is unusual to refer to a 7-foot-2 center as the underdog in a David vs. Goliath matchup, but that is precisely what Hibbert is against James. Big guys are always subject to greater scrutiny. If Hill were to back away from his next layup attempt with James looming, no one would be surprised. If Hibbert backed away, it would not take long for the “scared” label to stick.
Hibbert has not backed down, though. He was back at the forefront of the Pacers’ attack on Tuesday, scoring 23 points and leading his team to a 50-32 advantage in points in the paint. He made a point to leak into James’ line of vision whenever James tried to take George onto the block, where the power-forward-in-waiting was so dominant in Game 3. Hibbert has used every bit of his length and bulk to intimidate the Heat, which is a quality that is all too rare among players his size.
If this series continues to proceed in the manner it has, there are three more games left. James will undoubtedly deliver several more amazing plays that will look breathtaking in one of those “BIG” commercials. For now, though, let’s reserve our admiration for what the Pacers are doing. Their methods might not be as awe-inspiring, but so far they have been every bit as effective.