MIAMI -- This is why we're so hard on LeBron James. This is why we expect so much, and tolerate so little.
Because he's this good.
Twice in the last three days, culminating Thursday night in a Game 7 befitting this spectacular NBA Finals, LeBron was the best player in the world, by a significant margin, and he was that guy amid the most suffocating pressure possible. That's who he was late in Game 6. That's who he was in Game 7.
That's who we expect him to be every single time he plays a game. Is it fair? Yes, I think it is. Because he is that gifted. He is this good.
You saw it.
LeBron had 37 points, 12 rebounds and four assists in a 95-88 victory for the Heat, and this wasn't January against the Kings. This was Game 7 of the NBA Finals against the Spurs of Tim Duncan and Gregg Popovich. This was with the world watching, and we weren't watching to see what the Spurs or the Heat would do -- but what LeBron would do.
And this is what he did: He made five 3-pointers in Game 7, and he helped teammate Shane Battier make six. LeBron was so good on Thursday night, attracting so much defensive attention, that the Spurs left Battier alone on the perimeter even after Battier had made his first four attempts from 3-point range. Early in the fourth quarter LeBron found him for his fifth 3-pointer. Several minutes later he found Battier for No. 6.
Battier hit it, but LeBron did it.
LeBron did everything we expect him to do in a Game 7, which means he did everything. Period. Whether on switches or because he just wanted to do it, LeBron spent much of the game defending Spurs point guard Tony Parker, blotting out the smaller man, turning a future Hall of Famer into a 10-point, four-assist afterthought.
Teammates call LeBron "One Through Five" because he can guard all five positions on the floor. Had Tim Duncan gotten too frisky at center, LeBron would have taken him on Thursday night. Instead he split his time among Parker, shooting guard Manu Ginobili, small forward Danny Green and power forward Kawhi Leonard. One through four.
LeBron did that while also leading his team in total rebounds, getting it done at both ends of the floor. Nobody on the Heat had more offensive rebounds (three). Nobody had more defensive rebounds (nine). Nobody had more assists, either. Or steals (two). Or trips to the foul line (eight). Or minutes played (45).
"Dwyane Wade was good," Duncan said of LeBron's teammate, another Hall of Famer who had 23 points and 10 rebounds. "But LeBron was unbelievable."
Unbelievable is who he is, who he can be whenever he wants, and it's why we are hard on him when he doesn't get there and brutal to him when he doesn't even get close. Such was the case in the first three games of the NBA Finals, when this all-time great who averaged 34.5 ppg in Games 6 and 7 averaged less than half that (16.7 ppg) in Games 1, 2 and 3.
This is why people were stunned by his performance in the 2011 NBA Finals against the Mavericks, when he averaged 17.8 ppg in a six-game series the Heat lost. You want a stat? I have a stat. LeBron averaged 17.8 ppg in the 2011 NBA Finals, and he averaged 16.7 ppg in the first three games of the 2013 NBA Finals ... and he scored 16 points in the fourth quarter of Game 6, when the Heat needed every last one of them -- including his 3-pointer with 20 seconds left -- to force overtime.
That LeBron, the one who decided in the fourth quarter to simply take over Game 6, showed up in the second quarter of Game 7. He wasn't that guy in the first quarter, when he had four points and one assist and no rebounds and was turning down shots because he just didn't want to shoot. We were watching, and we were perplexed. What is he doing? Why now? This is Game 7, and he's doing that?
Then it happened. LeBron hit that switch that only he has, like some character from a movie. Go-go gadget, or Clark Kent in the phone booth or Bruce Wayne to the bat cave. LeBron decided to become a superhero, and there wasn't a thing anyone could do about it. It was the same switch he flicked in the fourth quarter of Game 6, when the Heat were down 10 and somebody had to do something, so LeBron did something -- he did everything.
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra was asked how that happened, how LeBron transformed late in Game 6 and then again in Game 7.
"It became time," Spoelstra said.
It was time Thursday night after one quarter of bizarrely bad basketball, the Heat leading 18-16, both teams threatening to do to the NBA Finals what UConn and Butler did to the NCAA championship game in 2011 (a 53-41 UConn victory).
Not on LeBron's watch. He sat out the first three minutes of the second quarter and then scored 33 points in the final 33 minutes, scoring on put-backs and 3-pointers off the catch and 3-pointers off the dribble and mid-range jumpers. He drove to the rim and scored, he pulled up from 15 feet and scored, he went to the line and scored. He was the cat, the hat and that damn goldfish in the bowl, and for 33 minutes he wasn't just the best player in the world, but quite possibly the best player of all time.
We'll never know. He and Jordan can't go one-on-one to settle this, and the 1996 Bulls can't be exhumed to play the 2013 Heat. Who's better? Jordan, probably. He did things that have never been done, including that 6-for-6 sweep of the NBA Finals and Finals MVP. LeBron won't do that.
But Jordan didn't average 34.4 ppg in Game 7s in his career. Nobody has. Nobody but LeBron, whose Game 7 scoring average is the best in NBA history -- read that again -- and whose 37 points on Thursday night were the most in an NBA Finals Game 7 since Jerry West had 42 in 1969.
Jerry West is the NBA's logo.
LeBron James is its most perfect specimen. He is this good, and he was this good Thursday night, and the next time he's not this good and lots of us wonder why, don't blame us for asking. You know why we're asking.
You saw what he did in Game 7.