Jun 14, 2013, 12:35 AM EDT
LeBron James is the most questioned NBA champion ever.
The snickers and jeering reached critical mass after he struggled through the Heat’s loss to the Spurs in Game 3 of the NBA Finals.
Can he elevate his game on the biggest stage? Is he afraid of the moment? Why does he crumble under pressure?
It was almost as if nobody remembers he won a championship last year, taking Finals MVP in the process.
The title was supposed bring basketball immortality. That’s how the game works. Win a Finals series, and you’re forever a champion. Nobody questions Paul Pierce’s, Kevin Garnett’s, Ray Allen’s, Ben Wallace’s or Chauncey Billups’ legacies as winners. All five won only a single championship, and all five actually returned to the Finals afterward and lost.
Yet, LeBron faces a different standard.
He brought some of it on himself by how he left Cleveland for Miami and began talking dynasty immediately. His physical dominance and advanced skillset also lend themselves to greater expectations.
But at a certain point, we cross a line and demand too much of LeBron.
And then he reminds you why he might retire as the greatest player of all time, how he’s capable of meeting the most absurdly high standards
In Miami’s 109-93 Game 4 win over San Antonio, LeBron had 33 points, 11 rebound, four assists, two steals, two blocks and only one turnover. Nobody has hit those numbers in a game, regular season or postseason, in two years. Nobody has done it in the playoffs since at least 1986, as far back as Basketball-Reference.com’s relevant records go.
LeBron knows how he’s judged, and at this stage of the season, not only must he play well individually, he must win a championship. And he knew it was time address that head on.
This wasn’t like after losing Game 1, when LeBron reinstated his belief in his teammates and then proved it in Game 2. After Game 3, LeBron focused on himself.
“I’ll be better,” he said. “I’ll be much better tomorrow night.”
“I can’t afford to perform like I did last night and expect us to win on the road. It’s that simple,” LeBron continued. “So, I’m putting all the pressure on my chest, on my shoulders to come through for our team. That’s the way it is.”
Then he dug in deeper.
“I have to do whatever it takes,” he said.
”I will be better tomorrow,” he vowed.
And then he angled his self-demanding talk toward his teammates.
“I am the star, I am the leader,” LeBron said. “And they look at me to do things on the court, to make plays, and if I’m not doing it, I’m not doing my job.
Until LeBron attempted his first shot with 6:31 left in the first quarter of Game 4, the Heat had shot 2-for-6 (33 percent) and trailed by eight points. From then on, LeBron’s teammates shot 52 percent and outscored the Spurs by 24 points.
The Heat have gone 69 straight games without suffering back-to-back losses not because LeBron always plays better after losses – he often doesn’t – but because the Heat play better after losses. His greatness fits within their team concept, and generally, when he excels, they excel.
He’ll face even more pressure in Game 5, as his own great performance in Game 4 will raise the bar even higher.
There’s no guarantee he’ll meet the challenge, but there is absolute certainty he’s capable.
After Game 3, LeBron said he’d play better. In Game 4, he played better. It’s really that simple.
This series rests in his hands. It’s up to him whether continues bringing the focus necessary to play at his highest levels. If he does, LeBron will get his second championship and likely his second Finals MVP.
And then we can raise the bar even higher.
Aug 20, 2014, 8:00 AM EDT
Best NBA Jam duo on a current team? Give me Durant and Westbrook.
Aug 20, 2014, 12:01 AM EDT
Bryant appears on latest Sports Illustrated cover.
Aug 19, 2014, 10:29 PM EDT
Highlights only serve as a reminder of just how bad things were in Los Angeles.
Aug 19, 2014, 8:57 PM EDT
Derrick Rose, not so much.
Report: Agent for Greg Monroe pursued sign-and-trade deals with five teams, including Thunder and Blazers
Aug 19, 2014, 7:21 PM EDT
Monroe will sign qualifying off with Pistons if no deal is in place by Oct. 1.
Aug 19, 2014, 6:00 PM EDT
Bonner now drives a 2014 Chevy Impala.
Aug 19, 2014, 5:00 PM EDT
I would pay good money to see this, even though I wouldn’t understand a word.
Aug 19, 2014, 4:01 PM EDT
I think the Pelicans are a playoff team next season.
Aug 19, 2014, 3:18 PM EDT
He’s fine, it’s just precautionary.
Aug 19, 2014, 2:59 PM EDT
I wouldn’t be shocked if this happened. Eventually.
Aug 19, 2014, 2:24 PM EDT
He’s 74, seems like a good time to hang it up.
Aug 19, 2014, 1:43 PM EDT
Derrick Rose had another light day.
Aug 19, 2014, 1:10 PM EDT
Ballmer sounded a little raspy and hoarse while on the Dan Patrick show Tuesday. Wonder why?
Aug 19, 2014, 12:43 PM EDT
From the outside looking in, it seems three spots will be divided between Mason Plumlee, Andre Drummond, Chandler Parsons, Gordon Hayward and Kyle Korver.
Aug 19, 2014, 12:24 PM EDT
They need him healthy this season, same with Deron Williams.
Aug 19, 2014, 11:17 AM EDT
The myth of Kobe Bryant continues to grow.
Aug 19, 2014, 10:34 AM EDT
This is likely a camp contract.
Aug 19, 2014, 9:58 AM EDT
Aug 19, 2014, 9:21 AM EDT
Harden is far from the first player to make this declaration.
Aug 19, 2014, 8:44 AM EDT
This is cool. Maybe not so practical, but cool.
- Derrick Rose sits out another Team USA practice, not likely to start Wednesday 20
- DeMarcus Cousins practices with team USA Tuesday, says he’s 50-50 for Wednesday game 2
- Jim Boeheim says of Carmelo Anthony, “it would have been better to go to Chicago” 30
- Steve Ballmer screams like a maniac at Clippers rally 26
- Thibodeau calls Team USA “perfect setting” for Derrick Rose to make return 6
- What four players left likely to get cut from Team USA roster? Things don’t look good for Andre Drummond. 19
- John Calipari says he was not close to going to Cleveland. LeBron or not. 12
- Report: Shawn Marion commits to play with Cavaliers, LeBron James 47