NEW YORK (Reuters) - LeBron James dominated the game with 49 points, but the pass he made to key the Miami Heat’s playoff win over the Brooklyn Nets revealed a hidden dimension - a chess master’s genius for seeing several moves ahead in an instant.
The muscular forward, whose skills, athleticism and versatility have brought him acclaim as the best basketball player in the world, was praised after Monday’s game for his basketball “IQ” by Miami head coach Erik Spoelstra.
“He was reading the game,” Spoelstra said after the Heat’s 102-96 victory gave Miami a 3-1 lead over the host Brooklyn Nets in their best-of-seven Eastern Conference semi-final.
“And the biggest play of the game, after scoring that many points, was getting off the ball,” the coach said about a pass James whipped outside to Mario Chalmers, who swung it to Chris Bosh for a three-pointer from the corner that snapped a 94-94 deadlock with 57 seconds left in the game.
“He showed great poise and trust. It was a basketball play. That’s what makes him unique.”
James, a four-time NBA most valuable player, had done most of the scoring all night, taking charge from the top of the key and consistently getting into the paint for layups or challenging defenders in order to get to the free throw line.
This time, James received the ball in the lane but instantly recognized the winning play.
“People are always talking about my basketball IQ,” he said softly after the game, looking bookish with his wire-rimmed glasses in contrast to his glaring, inflamed image on court.
“I see a lot going on in a game that I‘m not sure if everyone sees.”
With a minute to go, James received a pass from Dwyane Wade in prime position in the lane, but rather than attack, he immediately sensed a better game plan.
“The sequence went with me setting a high pick and roll for D-Wade and they kind of messed up the coverage, so D-Wade was able to hit me down the middle,” explained James.
”I went to attack (Kevin Garnett), who came off (Bosh) and I already knew exactly what was about to happen.
“As soon as I saw KG rotate to me I threw it to (Chalmers) and I already knew it was going to find CB.”
The fact that Bosh had missed a pair of three-pointers earlier did not cause James, who tied his playoff career high with 49 points, to hesitate.
“You make the right play every single time, make or miss,” said James. “It’s a numbers game. You live by it. You make the right play and live by the results.”
James said he is constantly making calculations.
“There’s a lot that goes through my mind throughout a basketball game. Sometimes it gets me in trouble, because there’s so much I‘m reading and reacting, and going through plays in my mind that hasn’t even happened yet,” he said.
Spoelstra noted that James has taken some heat in the past for passing up crunch-time shots in favor of finding an open teammate, but the coach of the two-time defending NBA champions trusts in his star’s choices.
“That’s what makes him the best player. Whatever’s needed,” said Spoelstra, whose team can advance to the Eastern Conference finals with a victory in Miami on Wednesday.
“Sometimes that means facilitating and sometimes that means going out of the box and scoring 49.”
Editing by Frank Pingue