Joe Posnanski
Friday May 29th, 2009

Well, I never saw anything like that before.

Sure, like every football fan, I saw Kellen Winslow against Miami, exhausted, bleeding, spent -- someplace close to dying -- come back on the field again and again, catch another pass, block a field goal, catch another pass. It was 1982. Winslow had a pinched nerve, and he was cramping, and he had a bloody lip, and he had to be carried off the field. And he stumbled back on. He caught 13 passes in that playoff game, he scored a touchdown, he would not relent.

But I still never saw anything like that before.

Yes, I saw George Brett, 1985, his team down to Toronto two games to none, and he told his teammates, "Climb on back for this one" In the first inning he hit a home run. In the fourth he hit one high off the wall for a double. In the sixth, with his team down 5-3, he hit another home run. In the eighth, with the score tied, he singled, went to second on a bunt, went to third on a groundout, scored the game winner on a single. And somewhere in all that he made perhaps the greatest defensive play of his life, throwing out Damaso Garcia at the plate. The Royals won, and they won the World Series, and it's hard to imagine one player doing more to make it happen.

But I still never saw anything like that before.

Yes, I saw Ali come back from the dead in the 14th round to knock the mouthpiece out of Frazier's mouth, and I saw Tiger Woods win a U.S. Open on one leg, and I saw Sampras vomit in the fifth set at the U.S. Open and then go on to victory, and I saw Michael Jordan make the big shot time and again.

No, I never saw anything like LeBron James in the fourth quarter against the Orlando Magic on Thursday. I have no idea if Cleveland has enough to go into Orlando and win Saturday. My mind tells me it will be tough. My mind tells me that even Thursday -- a game Cleveland won by 10 -- Orlando was the more complete team, the better coached team, the more resilient team, the more confident team. My mind tells me that TNT's Kenny Smith and Charles Barkley are right when they say that nobody alive, nobody, can do THAT again, what LeBron did.

But it's not my mind that speaks loudest now, not after watching LeBron James play that fourth quarter. He looked beat. He bent over and clung to his shorts -- the surest sign, Al McGuire and Billy Packer always assured us viewers, of a man's exhaustion. He had seemed to grow weary of being a one-man team -- all game long, he seemed almost to be PLEADING with his teammates to get involved, to make some shots, to help him help them. At first, they did make some shots. The Cavaliers led by 22. Then they didn't make shots. Orlando rushed back and trailed by one at halftime. The Cleveland pace slowed. The crowd noise deadened. LeBron was brilliant but consumed. The Magic led by eight early in the third quarter.

And then ... that fourth quarter. The numbers are the numbers -- the Cavaliers scored 34 points, and LeBron James had a hand in 32 of them. He scored 17, and he dished four assists, and he grabbed four rebounds. To see it: Mind blowing. Every time down, the Cavaliers would get the ball to James around the free-throw line. He would hold the ball, look over the court, and you wondered if he could even move he looked so tired. You could see him just stand there, and it was almost as if you could hear the thought in his mind: "Damn it, why does it have to be me again?"

And then, "Who else could it be?"

And he drove, hard, time after time, he attacked, and he waited for all five men to collapse on him. And when they did, he would sometimes toss it out to Daniel Gibson or Mo Williams or someone else who stood behind the three-point line, alone wide open. Other times, he would keep going to the basket, take off, take the inevitable punishment, shake off the defenders, try to put the ball in the basket. This wasn't, as announcers would say, Superman doing superhero work. No. Superman is impervious. With LeBron, you could see that every foul hurt, every step was exhausting, every move was made with the weight of an entire city on his shoulders. Still, he kept on going, kept scoring, kept making the passes, kept blowing minds. Who can keep up that pace? Who can take on five defenders every time down the floor? Who can carry a city that has not won a championship in 45 years?

LeBron's final numbers: 37 points, 14 rebounds, 12 assists -- not just a triple double, but a triple dozen ... here is the list of players in the last 20 years who have managed 35 points, 12 rebounds, and 12 assists in a playoff game:

1. LeBron James, May 28, 2009. 2. Nobody else.

There have been other great playoff performances, of course, and it's always easy in the rush of the present to forget about those, to leave behind Jerry West or Dr. J, to leave behind Bird versus Dominique or the Magic baby hook or Tim Duncan's quieter brilliance or Michael two dozen times, to leave behind Dwayne Wade or Steve Nash or Kobe and Shaq or Paul Pierce just one year ago.

I'm not saying this was fundamentally different from those, except maybe it was a little different. It is becoming clearer and clearer that Orlando has some sort of Cavaliers kryptonite. Maybe it's the matchups, maybe it's the coaching, maybe it's the size factor, but whatever the reason the Cavaliers never look good against Orlando, and they hardly ever beat the Magic. The Cavaliers won Thursday, but after the game ended, Charles Barkley was stuck between awe and disgust. "That was too hard," he said, and those were the perfect words. That was too hard. LeBron James had beaten Orlando single-handedly. And it was too hard.

But for one night, LeBron did it. And it was epic. It was like LeBron James was saying, "I don't know what will happen tomorrow. But we're not losing tonight."

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