There are nights when it doesn't matter how well the other team plays, how banged up his teammates are, whether he's wearing a headband or not, how he played the game before, what he said or did to cause the latest media furor de jour, or even who's guarding him.
There are nights when LeBron James is the best player on the planet, and he shows, in exacting and emphatic ways, that he can will his team to a victory.
Kyrie's toughness, Delly's scrappiness (if you want to call it that), Taj Gibson's ensuing absence (following his ejection), Mozgov's 0-for-7 effort, Derrick Rose's inefficient offense, Nikola Mirotic's shooting slump, Iman Shumpert's solid play, Jimmy Butler's spectacular evening... all of it mattered, until it didn't. Game 5 was close, but it wasn't. The Cavs took the lead on a Kyrie Irving three-pointer at the end of the first quarter and never gave it back. A 17-point fourth quarter lead whittled all the way down to two, but the result never really seemed to be in doubt.
When LeBron James plays as spectacularly as he did last night, it's tough to imagine his team losing, even as the game is happening, even when Derrick Rose was bringing the ball down the floor with 50 seconds left, the Bulls down just two. LeBron was there to clean that up, emphatically swatting Rose's runner away. Then he chased Jimmy Butler on the ensuing Bulls possession, and when he bricked the three, who else could've been there to grab the board besides LeBron James?
He became the first player in NBA Playoff history to post a 38 point, 12 rebound, 6 assist, zero turnover outing. It was the 23rd time in his career he logged 40+ minutes without turning the ball over; his teams are 20-3 when he does so. It was also the 33rd time James has been his team's outright leader in points, rebounds, and assists in a postseason game; Larry Bird is second on that list with 13 such games. Last night, LeBron was especially great in the first half; as Tom Haberstroh pointed out on Twitter, he went ISO just once, and wound up scoring 24 points on 12 shots. As the Bulls tightened up on him in the second half, the ISOs increased, but so did his assists; five of LeBron's six dimes came after the break.
While both Mike Dunleavy (17 points on six shots) and Jimmy Butler (21 points on 10 shots) got a little too open a little too often in the second half, it's pretty tough to find fault with LeBron's overall play. Without Kevin Love, without Pau Gasol, both teams dealing with hobbled point guards, centers who have extended stretches of offensive ineptitude, backup point guards who frustrate the hell out of everyone, scrappy backup power forwards who provide more than what the stat sheet describes - the similarities between the two teams are actually quite striking.
The difference (last night, anyway) came down to LeBron James and Jimmy Butler. Both were awesome in one half (LeBron the first, Butler the second) and both wound up with superstar-quality stat lines. 29 points on 18 shots, including clutch threes down the stretch, along with 9 rebounds, 3 assists, and a perfect mark (8-for-8) from the free throw line is nothing to minimize. He's averaged 21-6-3 on 42/38/85 shooting splits in the series, by far Chicago's best two-way player.
But overall, LeBron's better. He was better last night, he's been better in the series, and as the Cavs try to wrap up their bid in the Eastern Conference Finals on Thursday night, the best player in the world will be wearing their colors. Sometimes, the analysis can run deeper than that. Sometimes, that's all there is to say.