Updated: May 4, 2012, 2:20 AM ET

1. LeBron's Big Fourth Silences MSG Mocking

By Brian Windhorst
ESPN.com

NEW YORK -- This was very nearly going to go down as another game that would have haunted LeBron James throughout his career.

His first-ever playoff game at Madison Square Garden, a moment he'd thought about since he was a teenager, nearly was marred with a patch of history he would have a hard time shaking no matter what happened in this Heat-Knicks playoff series.

For the next few years, at the least, the Garden fans would've proudly serenaded him with the chant out of pure spite, which was the genesis of it anyway. They might do it for Game 4 on Sunday just because.

LeBron James
Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty

But it will not live in infamy, James made sure of that, and now the Heat have a 3-0 stranglehold after an 87-70 win.

For three quarters Thursday he was having a miserable playoff performance. Not a lethargic game, one of those sore thumbs that have crimped his reputation in the past couple postseasons, but an actively bad game.

He had a bunch of turnovers, a rare dose of foul trouble and a couple quirks that really enflamed the Garden. One was being a flop while defending Carmelo Anthony and another when a limp after a foul quickly disappeared when James became upset with the ruling. Combined with the lingering distaste from run-in after the Tyson Chandler pick back in Game 1, the Knick fans were firing away.

"We came into a hostile environment," was how James summed it up.

Down the "a--hole" chants came, loud enough and clear enough for everyone to feel comfortable participating and for everyone watching on TV to make them out. At its root it was about James not signing with the Knicks in 2010. But it was also a reflection on what the Knicks fans felt about James during this series. The more they chanted, the worse James seemed to play.

They had him where they wanted him.

Only they didn't really. Even as he was struggling to make a jumper, struggling to get a call and struggling with teammates as he barked in their direction even when it was sometimes his fault, James was fighting. Last year when things went badly, and they went very badly in the NBA Finals, James' reaction was to disappear. Stand in the corner. Stare into space. It happened at times the year before, too.

This time when James' problems arose he did the opposite. He did not fade, he pushed even when pushing caused more problems. He continued to handle the ball, he continued to attempt to attack the basket and he continued to stay engaged on defense as he was part of an effort that has smothered Anthony again.

When the fourth quarter started the Heat were ahead by two points. This was true for several reasons. One was because Dwyane Wade, who was also having an uninspired game until the second half, scored 11 points in seven minutes after James went to the bench with foul trouble in the third quarter.

Another was because the Knicks are simply overwhelmed in this series. Even with Amare Stoudemire, Jeremy Lin and Iman Shumpert, the Knicks would be underdogs. Without them, they have to battle to remain competitive. Anthony is left to try to work wonders and he seems to be out of magic.

But there was also the 15 points James had manufactured in those three dark quarters from getting to the foul line, forcing the issue and just using his talent. In short, the stuff he didn't do that got him in all that trouble last June. Had James gutted through a bad night last year like he did for the first three quarters Thursday, well, things might be different today.

All that turned out to be prologue, though, to James' fourth quarter. That's when he came off the bench not within a self-manufactured shell from the previous two hours but rather in a rage. He scored eight points in two minutes and the game was suddenly lopsided. He scored 17 points in the fourth overall, when the jumper returned and paired with the aggression to restore him to most valuable player status, and the Heat won by those 17 points.

"He has to stay with it; coaches like these kind of games where you have to grind," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "Things weren't going well and [there were] a lot of things that could have been excuses for him not to find a way to impact the game. He kept his head in the game, he was great in the huddles and then he made big plays."

The chants stopped. The majority of the crowd left early. James had performed the coup de grace on the weaker team, despite the rough night and the rowdy crowd, with a great fourth-quarter performance. When it was over his box score read 32 points, 8 rebounds and 5 assists and everyone wondered just how he got there.

That's how players of his caliber are supposed to perform in the playoffs, and it is certainly the standard the Garden was holding him to. This time, he broke them.

This game will probably be but a footnote in this postseason. James has a long way to go. But this series he has acted like his status demands: averages of 28 points, 6 rebounds, 6 assists on 51 percent shooting. And a 3-0 series lead.

His old friend Anthony, who has 63 points on 64 shots and just six assists in the three games, is the one getting the jagged edge. And James is the one with little that he needs to say.

"We won, that's all that matters to me," James said.


Dimes past: 20-21 | April 22 | 23 | 24 | 25 | 26 | 28 | 29 | 30 | May 1 | 2

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