When it was over, after the Miami Heat had avenged their earlier blowout home loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder with this 103-81 victory Thursday night at Chesapeake Energy Arena, LeBron James sat alone, silent, with a towel draped over his head, cotton plugs in each nostril.
The Heat forward already had passed the concussion tests, X-rays later at home to determine whether his nose was broken or merely bruised by an inadvertent fourth-quarter blow across the face from Thunder forward Serge Ibaka.
Around him there was yelping, cheering, a sharp juxtaposition as their leader sat silently, unavailable for comment.
Their leader had carried them to the verge of something special; his teammates finished the task after he departed midway through the fourth quarter.
Except for one face, it all felt particularly good, especially amid the sentiment that their leader's good looks might have been the only thing impacted.
"He has a swollen nose now and it's bleeding," coach Erik Spoelstra said. "We'll evaluate when we get back to Miami. But it's sore. He took a shot. He got hit pretty good though in the nose.
"I'm like everybody else. You're used to seeing him like Superman, get up and sprint back even after tough hits and tough falls. So we knew something was up."
Unavailable late, James made his statement early.
Smacked by Ibaka across the face while completing a dramatic dunk midway through the fourth quarter, James' night ended with 33 points on 15-of-22 shooting, with seven rebounds.
No foul was called on the play.
"He goes up and gets hit in the face, and then he goes up and finishes," center Chris Bosh marveled of James. "He's the biggest, strongest athlete in the league."
The Heat led by 16 at that point and held on from there, behind 24 points from guard Dwyane Wade, 24 from Bosh and eight rebounds off the bench from Chris Andersen.
James now will have two days off before the Heat return to action Sunday at AmericanAirlines Arena against the Chicago Bulls, having closed this three-week trip at 5-1, with victories in 10 of their last 12 games.
"We just wanted to end a very good trip, and this is a tough place to do it," Wade said. "This is a very gratifying win."
The Heat held on despite 28 points from Thunder forward Kevin Durant.
"Those guys hit some tough ones over some good defense," Durant said, with the Heat closing at .547 from the field. "We just had a bad night."
It was, without question, a significant night for the Thunder, with point guard Russell Westbrook back in the lineup for the first time in nearly two months.
And yet there, the day before, was Durant insisting otherwise.
"It's not a championship game," he said. "It's not a deciding game of the playoffs. This game is not going to get us in the playoffs or knock us out."
The other side? From the outset it was clear this one was more than one of 82 regular-season obligations.