In Game 1 of the NBA Finals, Le-Bron James played 48 of 53 minutes in a 124-114 overtime Cavaliers loss to the Warriors and he had 51 points, eight rebounds and eight assists.
James has averaged 41.7 minutes per game in the playoffs and even played all 48 of the Cavaliers’ Game 7 win over the Celtics. He also played all 82 games during the regular season for the first time in his career.
With all the minutes James has logged at 33 years old, you might think his body would be fatigued.
But James has a simple way of keeping himself fresh during games that still allows him to play so many minutes at a high level: He doesn’t run as much as his opponents.
James has mastered the art of resting while playing. Even as James led the NBA in minutes played per game, he was 30th in total distance run at 2.38 miles per game, according to NBA.com. That was 0.31 miles behind the leader in that category, Portland’s C.J. McCollum. That has carried over to the playoffs where James has averaged 2.58 miles, which is less than three Warriors: Klay Thompson (2.79), Stephen Curry (2.72) and Draymond Green (2.59).
“It’s just about growing, maturing and understanding that you play smarter,” James said last month, according to ESPN.com.
“It’s not like you’re out there and you say, ‘OK, I’m not going to get back on defense here. Not going to do this here.’ It’s just about picking your spots.”
If you watch James, you’ll notice he does a lot of walking on the floor. He is trying to conserve as many energy bursts as possible for when he absolutely has to deploy them. It’s wasted energy to James if he hustles down the floor when it’s not required.
James’ average speed during a game is 3.72 miles per hour. Curry, meanwhile is averaging 4.45 miles per hour. It has little to do with how fast James actually is.
“It’s just trying to save pockets of energy throughout, especially the second half, when I know it’s going to be a possession game,” James said.
That’s why James may take a possession or two off on offense. As James has gotten older, he has spent a lot of time and money taking care of his body.
ESPN reported he might spend upward of $1 million per year on it. So it wouldn’t make sense for him to be reckless on the floor with it.
Perhaps other players, such as the Wolves’ Jimmy Butler, will see what James is doing an adjust their play accordingly. Butler was third in distance run per game this season in the NBA (2.59 miles).
But could you imagine a player taking a play off to rest while Tom Thibodeau is his coach?