LeBron James Sends A Message With 42-Point Masterpiece As Cavaliers Beat Warriors 110-99

The surging Cleveland Cavaliers beat the league-leading Golden State Warriors 110-99 in a potential NBA Finals preview on Thursday night. That’s what matters most. But even if LeBron James would never publicly admit it, his masterful 42-point (15-25 FGs), 11-rebound, 5-assist, and 3-steal performance sure seemed like a pointed message to so many who’ve prematurely decided the MVP isn’t his award to win.

What’s been lacking for LeBron from the season’s outset and even during Cleveland’s recent binge has been a full-fledged commitment to the post. Whether that’s been a result of nagging back and knee pain or his adjustment to a new team and scheme, we still can’t be sure. After Thursday, though, it’s obvious that James hasn’t forgotten just how dominant his back-to-basket game can be when he and the Cavaliers decide to unleash it.

The King made a concerted effort to pound the post from the opening tip. He backed down the ultra-physical Draymond Green with ease for a baby hook early in the first quarter, abused Harrison Barnes with a quick baseline spin a few possessions later, and capped his wonderful night with a wildly difficult lefty push-shot through traffic.

Once he got going, though, James was content to make hay from the perimeter. He drained two of his four three-pointers and a pair of tough jumpers during his 14-point third quarter as Cleveland extended its lead, at one point busting out a Michael Jordan-style shrug to explain his hot hand.

We don’t understand how you make shots like this one seem routine, either, LeBron.

It often seems as if James “coasts” during the regular season, and several instances from tonight’s game made it easy to see why. But as he proved last season and has so many other times in the past, the four-time MVP is fully capable of turning it on when he needs to. His switch was flipped for the majority of the Cavs’ matchup with the Warriors, and the resulting performance hardly seemed surprising.

When LeBron wants to score, he usually does. When he wants to rebound, he usually does, and when he wants to defend, he usually does. It goes without saying that such motivation combined with his otherworldly level of all-around talent usually leads to wins, too.

But ability alone doesn’t a MVP make. Despite his substandard play on Thursday, Steph Curry hunted for shots and fought on defense with his usual aplomb. James Harden continues to carry the Houston Rockets with consistent two-way engagement, and Russell Westbrook has almost single-handedly driven the Oklahoma City Thunder to playoff position via his ever relentless motor.

If James really wanted the Maurice Podoloff Trophy again, we’re fully convinced he’d win his fifth. That effort and work load comes at a price, though, and the trio of superstar guards is more equipped to pay it than a 30 year-old LeBron whose chronic back problem flared-up again late in Thursday’s win.

Barring several more nights like this one on the national stage or a long Cleveland winning streak, James will likely be left on the MVP periphery come awards time. But if that ensures something close to full health once the games really start to matter, it will all be worth it for the player that again cemented his status as the league’s best. And after a convincing win over Golden State, there’s an argument to be made that his team bears that distinction, too.

[Vines via BBallBreakdown and Vinnyviner]