CLEVELAND -- After he was challenged by his coach and accidentally head-butted by an opponent, LeBron James responded with one of the most dominating fourth-quarter performances of his 15-year career in the Cleveland Cavaliers' 119-109 win over the Brooklyn Nets on Wednesday.
James scored 23 of his 33 points in the fourth, helping the Cavs overcome a seven-point deficit in the second half and extend their winning streak to six games. James' 23 points were one off his regular-season high for a fourth quarter (Jan. 6, 2008, against the Toronto Raptors), according to ESPN Stats & Information.?
James did his most damage from 4:25 in the fourth to the 55.6-second mark, scoring 18 consecutive points, tying the most points he has ever scored in the final five minutes of a game. During the span he went 6-for-6 from the floor, including 2-for-2 from 3-point range, while the Nets went 5-for-11 (0-for-4 from 3).?According to Elias, it was the most consecutive points James has scored in a fourth quarter in the regular season.
But the dominant quarter was preceded by a bit of adversity. In the first quarter, James missed a wide-open dunk that could have pushed Cleveland's lead to 10, and he then attempted an ill-advised 3-pointer that gave Brooklyn an open window to get back in the game. That sequence caused Cavs coach Tyronn Lue to get on his star at halftime.
Then, in the third quarter, James collided with Nets center Tyler Zeller and had to go to the locker room to receive stitches to close a gash above his lip.
"Good," Lue said when a reporter suggested that the hit from Zeller woke James up. "He was messing around. I told him at halftime, 'You messing around.' He got a little upset, and that's good. Get hit again."
Lue played it coy when asked what specifically James did in the first half to disappoint him, saying, "I forgot."
James, for his part, downplayed his performance and accepted his coach's criticism. After receiving enough stitches to "close the wound," James checked back in the game and sparked the Cavs' run by, he said, "just trying to make plays, be assertive, help my team win. ... Blessed to be able to make a couple down the stretch."
And as for Lue's critique??
"Whatever T-Lue say goes, so, you know, he knows how to challenge me sometimes," James said. "After the [missed] dunk, I came and pulled up for a 3 -- that was a bad shot. But they felt like the other one in the corner was a bad shot, against their big, and called a timeout after that point and kind of took the life out of the team. So, I know it starts and ends with me, so I got to be better, which I was in the second half."
James has been at his best in the fourth quarter this season, averaging 10 points in the quarter, easily the best in the NBA. New York's Kristaps Porzingis is second at 7.7, and New Orleans' DeMarcus Cousins is third at 7.6. Former Cavs guard Kyrie Irving?is fourth.
By comparison, James averages 8.3 points in the first, 5.7 in the second and 5.5 in the third.?
"My team looks at me to be that scorer now," James said. "The last couple years, Kyrie obviously being as great as he was in the fourth quarter, we kind of picked our games. There was games half the time that he had it going and, 'Hey, go get it.' There was games half the time where I had it going and I'd go get it. But right now my teammates look at me and they're like, 'OK, like this is your quarter. You've done this your whole career. Let's try to make some things happen.' And it's very important that I try to come through for them."
Cavs forward? Kevin Love said the team appreciated what it got out of James.
"Sometimes it's being aggressive and picking your spots and other times it's, 'Get the hell out of the way,'" Love said of James' approach. "And tonight, I don't know how many he had straight -- 18 straight -- I mean that was a special fourth-quarter performance, but it seems like he's always done that. But this year in particular, he's done an incredible job of doing that for us."
Dwyane Wade, who is embarking on his fifth season alongside James between Miami and Cleveland, couldn't recall another time when an injury sparked a run like that out of him.
"I don't," Wade said. "Because the only thing he ever has is a sprained ankle. That's the only thing I've ever seen him have. That was the first time he went to the locker room and got a stitch I think, so ... welcome [to the club]."
Whether it was Zeller's face or Lue's words, whatever got into James clearly worked.
"Tell him and he'll get mad [and respond] like, 'I'm not messing,'" Lue said before revealing that he was doing some self-censorship with cameras rolling in his postgame news conference. "But I didn't say 'messing' around, but yeah."
Nets coach Kenny Atkinson unsurprisingly said James was the difference-maker.
"LeBron really took over," Atkinson said. "There's no other way to put it. We didn't ever find a solution to stop him in the fourth quarter. We were trying different stuff. I guess we could have trapped him, but he's such a great passer we didn't want to give up 3s. You've got to give him a lot of credit."
And James passed on that praise to his teammates.
"You can't force it," James said. "You've got to let it come to you. It's times when you wish you can do it and sometimes when the ball just doesn't go in. But I put a lot of work into my craft and I believe that every shot I take is going to go in. But without my teammates setting screens and defending, getting the rebounds, cutting, and things of that nature, then none of that is even possible for me, so, they get the most credit."