Originally posted on Fox Sports Florida  |  Last updated 4/17/12
During the waning moments of Monday night's 101-98 win over the New Jersey Nets, Miami Heat forward LeBron James couldn't help but take it all in, pausing to appreciate the absurdity of everything going on around him. Here he was, in Newark, N.J., tucked away in the shadows of the Big Apple, holding an entire arena one that hates him with the type of venom that only New Yorkers can spew in the palm of his hand. "At one point last year, I never thought I'd be on someone else's floor hearing, 'Let's go Heat,' (or) on someone else's floor hearing 'M-V-P,' with what we've been though the last year," James said. "I'm happy to be a part of it, and I give all the thanks to the fans that were here. It was a great night." And a great night it was. LeBron was stellar during an otherwise lackluster mid-April game between two teams moving in opposite directions, the type of meaningless match-up no one from the players, to the fans, to even the reporters really wants to be a part of. James scored 37 points, just four off his season high, on 11-of-19 shooting to lead the Heat to the come-from-behind victory. But it was the way two-time MVP finished the game, not the manner in which he started it, that made the most headlines and even gave Nets fans devotees bred to hate every fiber in beings like James a reason to stand and cheer. James hit five of six shots during the fourth quarter, scoring Miami's final 17 points as they rallied to steal the three-point win and complete Miami's third straight season sweep of the lowly Nets. "That guy, No. 6, I guess he was pretty good down the stretch," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said shortly after the win. "He was sensational. He made every big play offensively. That's what an MVP does, and we needed it at both ends." And what makes James' improbable rally even more impressive is the fact that he should have never been a part of it to begin with. LeBron checked out at the end of the third quarter Monday, with his team trailing 79-70, and truth be told, he never expected to check back in. After all, at this point of the season as Miami turns down the home stretch of a grueling, compressed schedule, with its eyes on the playoffs and a potential first-round series with the resurgent Knicks long-term health almost seems paramount to short-term results. Dwyane Wade, Shane Battier and Ronny Turiaf had already been listed as inactive Monday night, and starters Mario Chalmers and Udonis Haslem saw their minutes reduced in a game the Heat didn't really need to win. With the Bulls, at the time, holding a 3-12 game lead in the East this was before Chicago inexplicably lost at home to Washington and Miami holding a 4-12 game lead over Indiana with six games to play after Monday, the Heat were practically locked into the East's No. 2 seed. So there was little incentive, if any, to expend more energy than was necessary for a meaningless victory on the tail end of a back-to-back this late in the season. But then things got interesting and better judgment took a backseat to James' unquestionable competitive spirit. "When we tied the game they took the timeout, it got under six (minutes) and coach hadn't looked at me," James said after the game, speaking of Joel Anthony's two free throws, which knotted the game up at 84-84 with 6:05 to play. "That's usually my point to go back in. I didn't know if he would put me back in or not." But then Spoelstra a coach who, like his star player, is probably too up-tight and sometimes too driven for his own good indicated that it was James' time to take over. "When he looked down, gave me the nod," James said, "I was ready to go and do my best to help us win the game." So that's just what he did. LeBron checked back in with 5:35 left and the Heat trailing 86-84, and at first he was disappointingly passive allowing rookie Norris Cole to miss three shots over the next two minutes. But eventually, he decided enough was enough. This was his show. With Miami down 95-88 with 2:28 to go, James called for the ball, and he only begrudgingly relinquished it, allowing just one shot from a teammate the rest of the way. Over the final two minutes, James hit all seven of his free throw attempts a welcome sight after LeBron choked away a win at the free throw line Thursday in Chicago and made his final four shots to seal the win, including a layup that gave his team the lead for good with 51 seconds left. "On a night like this, you can come up with a lot of excuses to not bring that type of performances," Spoelstra said. "That's not the type of DNA he has inside of him." As LeBron dazzled a decidedly bi-partisan crowd at the Prudential Center, you couldn't help but relive the 2007 Eastern Conference Finals, when James, then with Cleveland, scored 25 straight points and 29 of the Cavs' final 30, during a Game 5 road win over the Detroit Pistons. James' Cavs would later go on to be swept in the Finals that year, the first of the Chosen One's many postseason shortcomings, and now the key for LeBron and the Heat is harnessing the aggression on display Monday and taking the masterful effort and applying it when they need it most. When a title is on the line. When he failed epically less than a year ago. The Heat will, undeniably, need that kind of play from LeBron going forward. Their championship aspirations ones that they promised to deliver on during a premature victory celebration two summers ago rely on it. They rely on LeBron developing into the type of player who embraces the moment and thrives late in games, not one who shies away from the spotlight and withers under the immense pressure of the season's most crucial moments. If Miami is going to deliver on their championship promises, they need James to be the best player on the court, as he was Monday night. They need LeBron to be LeBron, not only when it's easy or convenient, but also when it's necessary and when his team needs him most. Follow Sam Gardner on Twitter: @sam_gardner
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