One moment, LeBron James was rolling on the floor and writhing in pain. Then he was on the kind of incredible scoring roll that left Knicks fans scrambling for painkillers.
With chants of "MVP! MVP!'' bouncing off the walls of AmericanAirlines Arena, James scored 32 points and shot 10-for-14 in a 100-67 win over the Knicks Saturday in Game 1.
Though he established himself early in the game, James was particularly devastating at the end of the second quarter after Tyson Chandler set a hard pick on him with his shoulder at midcourt. The flagrant foul sent James flying to the floor and the Heat fans flying to their feet. After dusting himself off, James responded by scoring nine straight points to close out the half and expand what had been a 14-point lead into a 54-31 advantage.
"On both ends of the court, it seemed as though he had his hands on every single play in some form or another," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "It was either a deflection, a steal, a rebound, a score or getting into the paint and drawing a foul. He was spectacular."
James likened the fallout from the hit to "whiplash" as he came off the court at halftime. Afterward, however, he said his play during that stretch was motivated by the crowd's reaction. "I was just trying to be in attack mode throughout the game," James said.
Chandler said after the game that he believed it was a legal pick. He didn't see it as a turning point, given that James had 23 points total in the first half.
James revealed earlier this month that he didn't leave his house for two weeks after last year's NBA Finals loss, and when he did, he said it was with a renewed mission.
"I waited a long time for this opportunity to get back to the postseason," he said. "I'm not always going to play like I did tonight and go 10-for-14 from the field. I was very efficient tonight."
Efficient? That's sounds more like a dishwasher or kitchen appliance than it does the most devastating offensive player in basketball. "He's the best player in the league right now," teammate Chris Bosh said. "You can just see the focus he has. It's incredible to watch."