It had been more than two years since LeBron James played a game in Cleveland because of the coronavirus pandemic. The Los Angeles Lakers star surely made up for lost time on Monday and showed what is perhaps his greatest performance against his former team.
James hit a season high of 46 in the Lakers’ 115-108 win over the Cavaliers, extending LA’s winning streak to 10-0 to start the season, a franchise record, and he did so in style in his home state Ohio.
“Home cooking,” he said afterwards at a video conference with reporters. “It just felt good to be back in my harbor, my haven of peace, and that’s home.”
For much of the trip, for the 18-year-old veteran, everything was warm and fuzzy. He spent time with his mother and uncle. He greeted former teammate Cedi Osman with a big hug during the warm up, bypassing the league’s health and safety protocols to show some love. He called out longtime Cavs employee Mark “Cobra” Cashman and called him “the greatest guy in the world”.
But when James fell behind the Cavs 89-87 in the fourth quarter after missing a turnaround shot at Buzzer that would have tied things up, he found a reason to ditch the nice guys routine and bury his former team.
After his 14-foot boat ricocheted off the edge twice over Taurean Prince, James noticed that Jason Hillman, the Cavs chief of staff, was sitting in a group at the baseline with the rest of the Cavs front office, clapping over them celebrate miss, sources told ESPN.
“I felt like he was a little too excited to see me miss me,” James said afterward, declining to name Hillman when asked who caught his attention. “He was really excited that I missed that shot. A little more than I would like. But of course he has to put down roots for his team. And he showed that.
“So I knew I still had a quarter and the fourth quarter is my favorite.”
And what a fourth quarter it was. James single-handedly prevailed against his opponent – the team he helped deliver his individual championship once in 2016 – and pushed the Lakers 21:19 past a brave Cavs squad that the Brooklyn Nets in twice in the fourth game at 21:19 the home defeated just last week.
After the carnage was over, James walked 9-on-10 off the field and hit a 3 from the Cleveland “C” logo in the courtyard and a few more daggers from the outside while adding two templates, two steals, and two blocks. All his former team could do was acknowledge James’s greatness.
“It doesn’t take much to get Bron up and running,” a Cavs source told ESPN about the brief exchange James had with Hillman. The quadruple MVP cast an icy look in Hillman’s direction before heading to the Lakers’ bank. “He was unreal tonight.”
Cav’s trainer J.B. Bickerstaff added, “You take your hat off to him. There’s a reason he is who he is and he has accomplished all the things that he has achieved. When he does such shots, you knock him off the bum. “
It was the most points James ever scored against Cleveland as he raised his career record to 15-1 in games against the team he’d qualified for over eleven seasons. And he was more accurate than ever in one way – his 73.1% of the field in 19v26 shooting was the best he has ever shot in 240 career games in which he attempted at least 25 shots (regular Season and playoffs combined). The only time he went 19 against 26? Game 6 of the final of the 2012 Eastern Conference in Boston, which many consider the most important victory of his career.
James became the oldest Lakers player to play a 40-point game at 36 years and 26 days since Kobe Bryant scored 60 points at 37 and 234 days in the last game of his career.
“I just never limited my potential,” said James. “I always wanted to get better and better, to the point where I can now dictate [what] the defense can do. And the defense can’t tell me what to do. “
James finished the 7v11 race by 3 and increased his outside shooting mark to 41.2% this season. That would be the best percentage of his career if he continued like this.
“The shooting,” said Lakers coach Frank Vogel, “was just ridiculous and for him just one of those nights for the ages.”