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.
May 23, 2015, 12:25 AM EDT
Cleveland shut down Atlanta’s offense in a dominant Game 2 performance.
May 22, 2015, 11:16 PM EDT
LeBron was great, and that was enough against a Hawks team that keeps losing guys due to injury.
May 22, 2015, 10:30 PM EDT
There’s also video of Harden doing some damage in the tunnel on the way to the locker room.
May 22, 2015, 9:30 PM EDT
Ruled a flagrant, which was probably the correct call under the circumstances.
May 22, 2015, 8:30 PM EDT
GM Mitch Kupchak: “It looks as though we’ll use our pick this year.”
May 22, 2015, 7:38 PM EDT
Irving is dealing with a knee injury.
May 22, 2015, 7:15 PM EDT
Explaining Stephen Curry’s game is just not that easy.
May 22, 2015, 6:49 PM EDT
Did they disagree? Sure. Was there a rift… depends on who you ask.
May 22, 2015, 5:45 PM EDT
Even an older NBA player has mad skills.
PBT Extra: Klay Thompson’s done well, but Warriors should throw other defenders at James Harden, too
May 22, 2015, 4:59 PM EDT
It might help Thompson’s offense, too.
May 22, 2015, 4:15 PM EDT
Summer League is a perfect place for giving White another look.
May 22, 2015, 3:30 PM EDT
Give some credit to Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, who got back on defense.
Report: Lakers have ‘big-time’ interest in signing DeMarre Carroll, Celtics and Pistons also in pursuit
May 22, 2015, 2:45 PM EDT
Would they pay him the $15 million per season one NBA executive estimated the Hawks forward could get in free agency?
Report: Tom Thibodeau believed to prefer sitting out next season rather than helping Bulls by accepting trade
May 22, 2015, 2:07 PM EDT
That could leave Magic, Pelicans, Bulls and Thibodeau in a bind
May 22, 2015, 1:28 PM EDT
Which probably means it’s his last in the NBA
Chandler Parsons won’t say whether his surgery was microfracture, might not be ready for training camp
May 22, 2015, 12:50 PM EDT
Tea leaves reading negative for Mavericks
May 22, 2015, 12:13 PM EDT
LeBron James poised for a big game
Report: Lakers not locked into drafting Karl-Anthony Towns or Jahlil Okafor, could pick a guard at No. 2
May 22, 2015, 11:38 AM EDT
That’d be D’Angelo Russell or Emmanuel Mudiay
May 22, 2015, 11:02 AM EDT
Consider it Riley’s revenge
May 22, 2015, 10:25 AM EDT
Is his injury more serious than previously thought?
- Cavs’ improved defense deserves credit for commanding 2-0 Eastern Conference Finals lead 3
- No Kyrie Irving, no problem: Cavaliers cruise to blowout Game 2 win over Hawks 9
- Kyrie Irving out for Game 2 vs. Hawks 6
- PBT Extra: Klay Thompson’s done well, but Warriors should throw other defenders at James Harden, too 5
- PBT Extra: Give Warriors defense some credit for stop of Harden on last play 0
- Lakers general manager says Kobe Bryant told him next season will be Kobe’s last with Lakers 17
- For two games James Harden has been brilliant, but that’s not what anybody is talking about 25
- Warriors survive James Harden in Game 2, take 2-0 lead in Western Conference finals 15