LeBron’s first trip to the Finals with Miami wasn’t pleasant. The Mavericks held him in check and limited him to an unsatisfying 17.8 points and 3.3 free throw attempts.
In 2012, King James returned with a more relaxed mindset and had everything figured out. The Heat took down the Thunder in five games behind James’ averages of 28.6 points and 9.2 free throw attempts.
In James’ third consecutive trip to the NBA Finals, the challenging Spurs have taken the LeBron out of LeBron through the first three games. The Spurs have somehow held him to a deficient 16.7 points on 39 percent shooting.
In game 3, LeBron failed to get to the free throw line at all. Saying that is uncharacteristic of the 4-time MVP is an understatement. It appeared as if James was shying away from the opportunity and conceding defeat to the Spurs. James started off 2-12 for the second straight game before ending up 7-21 with a discouraging 15 points.
“We’re guarding (James) with five guys,” said Tim Duncan. “We’re trying to make his life as difficult as possible every time he touches the ball.”
Duncan couldn’t have summed it up any better. Instead of LeBron attacking the hoop like he regularly does, San Antonio’s team defense is viciously attacking him. The Spurs are successfully playing mind games with the NBA’s most dominant all-around player. They’re putting Leonard on him, and then Ginobili might come over and help. Even if he gets through those two, Duncan is waiting right there for him.
You would think LeBron could just keep deferring to his open shooters, but in game 3, it worked nothing like that. San Antonio’s defense has been truly unbelievable; their defense spaces the floor and controls the tempo like it is offense. On top of that, they aren’t just sticking with a basic man-to-man strategy all game long. They continuously switch up their schemes so LeBron doesn’t find a single solution on how to break their defense.
Not just LeBron, but Miami as a whole, looks lost in the middle of an unsolvable maze. Honestly, I’m not sure if Miami knows exactly what needs to change, but they know that something needs to change. Spoelstra can coach his heart out, but LeBron is the man that is ultimately responsible for getting Miami out of this slump.
Yes, of course the rest of the team (minus Mike Miller who’s been their most consistent shooter) needs to step up. However, LeBron is even partly responsible for that because, as the heart and soul of this team, he needs to communicate with them and make sure their jobs are clear to them.
Dwyane Wade has gotten off to a hot start in each of the previous two games, but he has followed each first half with a poor, lackadaisical performance. James and Wade aren’t running the floor nearly as much as they would like to, and give San Antonio credit for taking Miami out of it’s game. But if executing in the half court offense is their only option, then LeBron needs to make wise decisions, and ultimately, lead his team to the promise-land.
LeBron doesn’t look half as comfortable with his jumper as he did in the regular season. Because the Spurs are so successful in taking away all entries to the basket, LeBron needs to pull up and confidently knock down the mid-range jumper. The Spurs are clearly playing him to shoot the ball as they are giving him significant space anywhere outside of the paint, but LeBron has been hesitant to pull the trigger.
Game 4 is tonight, and Miami faces another must-win game. Miami hasn’t lost a back-to-back game in the playoffs, but at this point, history is somewhat irrelevant. I know it must be a lot easier said than done, but it truly doesn’t matter; you are King James and everybody has their eyes on you. If Miami loses this game, it’s on LeBron, no matter what. It may not be fair, but hey, life isn’t always fair.
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