A rising LeBron James lifts all Cavs

ATLANTA -- LeBron James is one of the most prolific scorers ever to play in the NBA playoffs, a fact he made even more abundantly clear in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals, putting in an every-which-way-you-can 30 points.

It was his 74th 30-point game in his postseason career, tying him with Jerry West for fourth on the all-time list. Only Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar have more.

A whopping 44 percent of the 174 playoff games James has played ended up with him topping the 30-point plateau.

And yet, it was James' passing -- not his scoring -- that really killed the Hawks in the Cavs' 94-82 win Friday to go up 2-0 in the series.

Playing without Kevin Love or Kyrie Irving, James just found other guys to pass to: more Iman Shumpert, more Matthew Dellavedova, more J.R. Smith and more James Jones. James set the tone with 13 points and zero assists in the first quarter and then dished out nine of his 11 assists in the next two, breaking the game wide open.

"I've got a good vocabulary, but I'm sort of running out of superlatives for that guy," Cavs coach David Blatt told me after the game. "I'm going to let you think of something; you're the writer."

The problem with breaking out the thesaurus to find other ways to describe James' greatness is that perhaps his biggest strength isn't what he does, it's how he influences his teammates. It's hard to encompass that in an adjective.

"He helps us elevate our game," Tristan Thompson said. "Playing with a great player like him just makes you want to get better, makes you want to put the time in watching film and I think that's what great players do. They take the group around them and help elevate their game."

It's also James' identification as much as elevation. Like a picker who searches through garages and flea markets for the best items for resale, James knows what parts of his teammates' games to enhance to help the team.

"We all have a skill set and you want to be able to get to your skill set and do what you do best and he allows that," Jones said. "If you're a defender and you're an on-ball defender, you know you can pressure up because he's a great weakside defender and that gives you the confidence. If you're a shooter, he gets you the ball in spots. If you're a big man, he finds you in transition. So, all the different facets on the game he's able to impact."

Shumpert, when asked about James' impact on his improvement after he scored 16 points and had four of his six buckets come off of James assists, said: "The biggest thing that my teammates here have done for me is they simplify my job."

James makes it easy for others to succeed.

"I give my teammates the utmost confidence that when I throw them the ball, to shoot with confidence," James said. "I just try to put it exactly where they need it to be, where all they've got to do is catch and shoot or catch and drive and make things happen."

Said Thompson: "He sees the floor so good that we just got to stay in our spots and be ready to finish."

Perhaps what makes James' passing so potent is that he enjoys doing it. He calls the assist his favorite play in basketball. By him being unselfish, he actually gets more personal satisfaction. It's better to give than to receive for James whenever he steps on the court.

"For me, more than scoring, you always get the excitement of two guys being able to benefit from a pass. If I score the ball, if I'm in an iso situation where I score the ball, it's just me and I've always been accustomed to team basketball," said James, who was hard on himself for playing too much isolation ball late in Game 1 as the Cavs' 18-point lead was cut to just four. "When I'm able to put pressure on the defense and then make a pass to a teammate and he's able to knock it down, I've always got the excitement of that more than anything."

He doesn't need a Big Three on the receiving end of the pass to get that feeling. In fact, it's probably even stronger for him when he's setting up a non-star for a shot, because he can share in their success even more so.

Cavs general manager David Griffin didn't have a perfect word to describe James' play either, but the word he used to describe how he felt watching his star completely dominate Game 2 was pretty spot on.

"I felt honored to watch it," Griffin said, adding that he had that feeling only one other time in his career when he was with the Phoenix Suns and Steve Nash scored 40-plus points to win a double-overtime game that left Quentin Richardson cursing Nash's name in exasperation as he walked off the court because of the way Nash beat his team.

James is still at the top of his game and taking most everybody else in that Cavs locker room with him to a place they've never been.

"Part of what he's doing so well has to do with his teammates reacting and responding him in the proper way. Certainly, his greatness is evident, but the other guys are completing him, and that's what you want from a team and that's what you want from a team that plays with such a great player ... My feeling is right now we're the 'Big One.' One team," Blatt said.

With one undisputed leader showing them the way.