This time, “The King” served “The Servant.”
And by the time LeBron James was done taking it to Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Miami Heat didn't just walk out of Chesapeake Energy Arena with a dominant 103-81 win on Thursday night, but James also left town with new life in an MVP race many were claiming was over at the All-Star break.
James was that good, controlling the game from start to bloody finish.
All that could stop James on this night was Thunder forward Serge Ibaka inadvertently raking him across the face with 5:50 left to play. Technically, not even that blow stopped James, as he still powered through the contact to finish with a flush in Ibaka's face.
After collapsing to the court, where he stayed as play went the other way, James left the game with blood trickling from his nose. He did not return.
But by that point, his work was done and the game was all but over.
James scored 33 points on 15 of 22 shooting. He added seven rebounds, three assists and four steals, chewing up and spitting out each of the four defenders Oklahoma City sent his direction.
“With all this rhetoric going back and forth about not only the teams but the individual matchups, you could tell both (James and Durant) were ready to play,” said Heat forward Chris Bosh. “But LeBron, he really set the tone and came out and put his print on the game early.”
James scored 14 points before Durant attempted a single shot. He pumped in the first 12 for Miami and had 16 points on 8-for-10 shooting through the first period. Durant, after the first-quarter buzzer, was stuck on two points on 1-for-5 shooting.
“He was hot,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. “I think the first 10 points it seemed like were in transition off of our turnovers. They were dunks or layups. So when you give a guy like James a lot of opportunities early, and easy opportunities, the basket becomes even bigger. And he was feeling it offensively.”
Durant, in his first game after playfully nicknaming himself “The Servant,” finished with 28 points, shooting 10-for-22 from the field while adding eight rebounds and three assists — a great night for most but a subpar performance for the unanimous frontrunner for MVP.
Be it the weeklong layoff due to the All-Star break, or the long-anticipated return of Russell Westbrook, the Thunder simply wasn't as sharp as it had been while winning 15 of its previous 17 contests.
OKC committed nine turnovers in the opening quarter and watched those transform into 14 Heat points. The early struggles continued throughout, as the Thunder finished with 20 turnovers that resulted in 25 Heat points.
In the Thunder's 17-point win at Miami on Jan. 29, OKC turned the ball over only 16 times and benefited from the Heat having 21 giveaways.
“Offensively, we were out of sync,” Brooks said. “We turned the ball over too many times … We didn't have a good rhythm in this game.”
Sensational 3-point shooting by the Thunder also didn't carry over from the first meeting into Thursday. Oklahoma City's 16-for-27 clip at Miami didn't seem sustainable, but no one anticipated the drop off to be as bad as it was, a 2-for-20 clip in round two.
“It was a combination of rust and bad decision-making,” said Westbrook. “Our first game after the break is always a little slow. But no excuses. We'll get it together.”
A lot is riding on it.
The Western Conference's top seed is still up for grabs and, after Thursday night, so is the league's MVP award.
Those closest to LeBron say he's coming for the hardware that up until now had belonged to Durant.
“We just don't want one guy, unless it's our guy, head and shoulders ahead in the race,” Bosh said.