11:21 am Aug. 6, 2012
LeBron James supposedly wasn't capable of coming through when it mattered. Never mind the Eastern Conference championships with Miami and a severely undermanned Cleveland Cavaliers team, or the performances like this one back in 2007, when he scored Cleveland's final 25 points in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals.
For James, the clouds lingered for as long as an N.B.A. championship stayed off of his resume, and he had some games, as he did against Dallas in the 2011 N.B.A. Finals, where he seemed to actively avoid taking over.
Then came the 2011-12 season, when James delivered perhaps his most dominating performance ever in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals to defeat the Celtics, in Boston, with the Heat facing elimination. And he carried that dominance right through an N.B.A. Finals victory over Oklahoma City.
That new LeBron James is the one who showed up on Saturday, and is the reason the United States managed to hold off a well-organized Lithuania, 99-94.
Everything was going wrong for the U.S., and all the pieces seemed to be in place for an upset: Their three-point shooting iwas off, their defensive energy was down, and Lithuania was hitting everything from outside.
The result was a score of United States 87, Lithuania 86 with four minutes to go.
That's when James went to work. A three-pointer made it 90-86. Off of a steal from Chris Paul, a James dunk increased the margin to 92-86. Lithuania scored to cut the lead to four with 3:17 left, and played strong defense on the ensuing U.S. possession. James ultimately took and missed a three, but again wanted to be the one scoring. An offensive rebound led to a Deron Williams three. A defensive stop by the U.S. was followed by a James layup. Another stop, another James two. 99-90, 1:12 left. Game over.
Nine of the twelve points came from James. Five of the seven shot attempts came from James. The most talented player in the world wanted the ball at what will probably be the most pivotal moment of the Olympic basketball tournament.
The United States will face Argentina on Monday evening. Sure, Argentina can take some lessons from what Lithuania did. But if it gets close late, the U.S. will turn again to LeBron James, the best player in the world.