LeBron James’ first fadeaway jumper on Thursday night, which went through the net with 3:35 remaining in the third quarter, was a dirty, dirty maneuver. James pogo-sticked backward off his left leg, creating enough horizontal and vertical space to flip the ball over Pascal Siakam’s outstretched right arm. As the shot arced toward the rim, ESPN’s camera had to tilt up slightly to keep the roof-scraping parabola within the confines of the screen. Watching on TV, you could hear a kind of gasp/groan when the ball swished through the net. That’s the sound Raptors make when they’re on the verge of death.
Forty-five seconds later, LeBron made a fadeaway 3 over Siakam from the top of the key. And then, within a five-minute span in the fourth quarter of Game 2 of the Eastern Conference semis, he knocked down fadeaways from, in order, the right wing, the right elbow, the left elbow, the left baseline, and the left wing. The seventh and final shot in this gruesome sequence, which gave the Cavaliers an 18-point lead—the same as the final margin in their 128-110 victory—went through as the shot clock buzzer went off. That’s the sound of the universe screaming, “Stop! Stop! They’re already dead!”
LeBron has been nailing fadeaways in key playoff moments since Pascal Siakam was a kid in Cameroon. Just ask the Detroit Pistons:
And Paul Pierce:
Oh, and also the Raptors, given that he tied Game 1 in the waning moments of regulation with a fadeaway over OG Anunoby:
But what LeBron did to the Raptors on Tuesday was different, and not just because of the sheer tonnage of fadeaways he rained down on the good people of Canada.
As Kevin Love explained on the podium after the game, this was a premeditated act.
James finished with 43 points, 8 rebounds, and 14 assists in leading the Cavs to a 2-0 series lead. After the game, he credited Raptors coach Dwane Casey with creating the monster that ravaged Toronto. Casey, who was an assistant with the Dallas Mavericks in 2011 when the Mavs beat LeBron’s Heat in the NBA Finals, has been widely credited with hatching a defensive scheme that destroyed James’ confidence.
After that series, LeBron worked obsessively on his jumper and his post-up game. The next season, he won his first NBA title. Six years and two more titles later, there’s nothing the 33-year-old James can’t do on a basketball court. Game 3 of the Eastern Conference semis is on Saturday night. At this point, the Raptors’ demise feels like an inevitability. It’s up to LeBron to decide how he wants to finish the job.