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.
Apr 26, 2015, 6:31 PM EDT
Blake Griffin grabbed 19 rebounds, and Austin Rivers (!) chipped in 16 points in 17 minutes off the bench.
Apr 26, 2015, 6:30 PM EDT
With the new salary cap, Davis’ deal could approach $140 million.
Apr 26, 2015, 5:18 PM EDT
Kevin Love gets hurt, Cleveland gets revenge, and Boston gets swept
Apr 26, 2015, 4:58 PM EDT
Conley suffered the injury in Memphis’ Game 3 win in Portland.
Apr 26, 2015, 4:30 PM EDT
It sounds like he’s taking a victory lap.
Apr 26, 2015, 2:55 PM EDT
Smith could face suspension.
Apr 26, 2015, 1:25 PM EDT
He will not return Sunday.
Apr 26, 2015, 12:30 PM EDT
Apr 26, 2015, 11:00 AM EDT
“He’s the guy they want,” the report says.
Apr 26, 2015, 9:30 AM EDT
Players were given the option by the team’s GM, but Aldridge — who will be an unrestricted free agent this summer — was the only one who chose to leave.
Apr 26, 2015, 8:00 AM EDT
He was getting his buckets at the rim or on the right side of the floor.
Apr 26, 2015, 2:37 AM EDT
Memphis’ offense was the best it has looked this series.
Apr 26, 2015, 1:24 AM EDT
There is no update on the severity of his injury yet.
Apr 26, 2015, 12:07 AM EDT
Jared Dudley’s pass was fantastic.
Apr 25, 2015, 10:50 PM EDT
Golden State wins Game 4, 109-98
Apr 25, 2015, 9:00 PM EDT
Milwaukee forced 26 Chicago turnovers, a season high.
Mark Cuban shouts at Adam Silver to complain about foul calls during Mavericks’ Game 3 loss to Rockets
Apr 25, 2015, 8:30 PM EDT
Silver was in attendance for Game 3 between the Mavericks and the Rockets.
Apr 25, 2015, 6:59 PM EDT
Nets now trail the Hawks 2-1 in the series.
Apr 25, 2015, 5:30 PM EDT
Apr 25, 2015, 4:00 PM EDT
- Chris Paul scores 34 points, Clippers win Game 4 to even series with Spurs 0
- Cavaliers advance to second round – but but maybe lose Kevin Love and moral high ground in process 15
- Mike Conley out for Game 4 with “serious” facial injury, no timetable for return 3
- Grizzlies start fast, hang on to beat Portland, take 3-0 series lead 1
- Bucks outwork Bulls, stay alive on Jerryd Bayless game-winner 6
- Nets use 18-0 second-half run to secure Game 3 victory over Hawks 6
- Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle fined $25K for publicly criticizing officials after Game 3 loss to Rockets 10
- PBT Extra: Stephen Curry starting to have his defining playoff moments 8