Jun 14, 2013, 12:35 AM EST
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.
Nov 28, 2014, 6:30 PM EST
He’s the team’s leading scorer (which says a lot about the Sixers’ offense).
Nov 28, 2014, 5:00 PM EST
Adam Silver has called it his top priority
Nov 28, 2014, 3:40 PM EST
Indiana hosts Magic
Nov 28, 2014, 2:10 PM EST
Melo said it came down to Bulls and Knicks
Nov 28, 2014, 12:39 PM EST
Grizzlies’ win upheld
Nov 28, 2014, 12:25 PM EST
To reach the 49 wins it took to make the playoffs in the West last season, the Thunder need to go 45-21 the rest of the way.
Nov 28, 2014, 11:00 AM EST
What about Chris Paul?
Nov 28, 2014, 9:30 AM EST
Mavericks own bitter about how Fisher left Dallas
Nov 28, 2014, 8:00 AM EST
I’d take this rumor with a grain or 12 of salt, but…
Nov 28, 2014, 1:51 AM EST
Scottie Pippen made the list, too.
Nov 27, 2014, 11:00 PM EST
Parker gets the rookie treatment from the official.
Nov 27, 2014, 9:30 PM EST
Davis is averaging 17.7 shots per game.
Nov 27, 2014, 8:00 PM EST
Sager will receive clearance to fly in January.
Nov 27, 2014, 6:30 PM EST
Rose says he is feeling better about his health.
Nov 27, 2014, 5:00 PM EST
Michael Malone increases pressure on sometimes-combustible Cousins
Nov 27, 2014, 3:30 PM EST
Celtics forward in final year of contract
Nov 27, 2014, 2:00 PM EST
Clifford has benched Stephenson for consecutive fourth quarters
Nov 27, 2014, 12:30 PM EST
Suns guard drives for reverse slam, cuts for monstrous alley-oop
Nov 27, 2014, 11:00 AM EST
Very nice gesture
Nov 27, 2014, 9:30 AM EST
He missed seven games with a hamstring injury.
- NBA denies Kings’ protest 2
- Russell Westbrook returns to court tonight for Thunder vs. Knicks 7
- Kobe Bryant says Gary Payton, Kevin Garnett among best trash talkers he’s faced 9
- PBT’s Wednesday NBA Winners/Losers: Ettore Messina making history for Spurs 1
- LeBron James, Cavaliers have kind of game they need to replicate blowing out Wizards 5
- Gregg Popovich to miss game following ‘minor medical procedure’ 8
- PBT Extra: Anthony Davis’s MVP-level play, the Spurs and things to be thankful for 8
- Report: Knicks worried Carmelo Anthony’s back issue may be season-long concern 9