Father Time is undefeated, but he has yet to beat LeBron


It’s become a staple of the playoff-watching experience: LeBron James, ball on a rope, world in his palm, looking for the defender he wants to exploit, and directing the movements of his teammates like pieces on a chess board until he finds a way to force the switch which puts the defense in check. He cycles through the options until he finds the one he prefers – a small guard to roll into the post, a heavy cross to cross on the way to the rim, an outclassed head-to-head defender who will need some help. help LeBron can then further operate with his death. And then, having chosen his career, King James attacks, going where he wants, to do what he wants, when he wants.

We’ve seen this streak unfold countless times over the past decade; you could probably draw one of these from memory. You know exactly what it looks like.

This is not what it looks like:

A few times in Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals on Thursday, James worked his way into a comfortable game – against brave Nikola Jokic, rookie Michael Porter Jr., half-idle Paul Millsap and little combo guard Jamal Murray – and just sort of… wasn’t going anywhere. He took his time, danced a little, and ate the stopwatch; then, unable to find an angle of approach that would allow him to breathe by his man and make his way to the cup, he would eventually settle for the kind of self-effacing rescue jumper you’d imagine eliciting sighs of relief from the Nuggets bench.

I’m not coming to bury LeBron James, or to call the greatest player of his generation washed out, or even necessarily to say he’s slowed down to a dramatic degree. After all, he just put 26-9-8 in a 114-108 win that puts the Lakers to a win of his 10e Appearance of the NBA Finals. He remains the best basketball player in the world, the one you would choose over all the others if you are absolutely had to winning a game here and now; he’s still the brightest light in the league. It seems, however, that the times when that light twinkles, just a little bit, have been a bit more pronounced lately. And that feels weird.


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