By: Will Burchfield
The Pistons upended the Cavaliers on Thursday night, but not before LeBron James racked up the eighth triple double of his season and the 50th of his career.
Afterward, Stan Van Gundy couldn’t repress his admiration for one of the greatest players of all time.
“He’s a guy who puts pressure on the defense and makes the right play. If he gets to the rim he finishes, if he’s got an open shot he takes it, if you come he makes a pass. I mean, he’s the consummate professional basketball player,” Van Gundy said. “You can make a very, very, very strong argument that he’s the best that’s ever played this game.”
James finished with 29 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists on Thursday, punctuated by a series of highlight-reel dunks.
Van Gundy was disappointed in the way the Pistons challenged James at the rim – guys were sort of coming half hearted,” he said – but conceded that, sometimes, all you can do is hope he misses.
“How about the one late in the game?” Van Gundy said with a tired chuckle. “He carried two guys to the rim with him.”
For what it’s worth, it appeared he was fouled on the play too.
“I mean, the guy’s incredible. He’s just a great, great, great player. Look, you play him the best you can and hopefully we’ll do a better job going forward. I thought we were really late helping, I didn’t think we anticipated our helps very well and then I don’t think that we challenged him at the rim very well,” Van Gundy said. “But he’s a fabulous player.”
Perhaps most telling of LeBron’s greatness on Thursday night was the dip in Cleveland’s performance when he was on the bench.
“I mean, you look and it’s a pretty amazing stat. In the 39 minutes he plays, they’re plus-18 with him on the floor, which means in the nine minutes he was on the bench – only nine minutes – we outscored them by 23,” Van Gundy said. “I don’t know if that’s good or bad or what, but that’s what happened.”
When James began the fourth quarter on the bench, the Pistons turned a seven-point deficit into a six-point lead. He did his best to pull the Cavs back when he re-entered the game, but the damage had already been done.
Still, Thursday night’s game provided yet another example of LeBron’s singular brilliance. Asked if he’d rather see James pass the ball in isolation matchups, Van Gundy smiled and shook his head.
“Nah, you know what, I wouldn’t say that. Again, 10 assists today, and there’s a lot of times he’s more dangerous as a passer than as a scorer,” said Van Gundy. “You’re picking your poison with him.”