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.
Mar 8, 2014, 4:30 PM EST
Well, we know he can’t wear a black mask to protect his face going forward. Portland’s starting swingman Nicolas Batum broke his nose in the Blazers’ loss to the Dallas Mavericks his agent told Chris Haynes of CSNNW.com. In the third quarter Monta Ellis drove the lane and used his off arm to clear out…
Mar 8, 2014, 3:01 PM EST
O.J. Mayo has been suspended one game without pay for “forcibly striking” Greg Stiemsma in the throat during Friday night’s loss to the Pelicans, the league announced on Saturday via official release. This comes as no surprise, as Mayo’s teammate Ersan Ilyasova received a similar suspension for even less of an offense that occurred in…
Mar 8, 2014, 2:00 PM EST
Paul Pierce is finishing out his Hall of Fame career with the Nets at the moment, after playing 15 seasons with the Celtics and rising to the top of many of the franchise’s all-time statistical leaders lists. Pierce returned to Boston for the second time this season wearing a different jersey on Friday, but he’ll…
Mar 8, 2014, 12:30 PM EST
Because the Lakers haven’t been embarrassed enough lately… That is Jodie Meeks just getting dropped by Ty Lawson‘s crossover during the Nuggets 134-126 win over the Lakers Friday night in a real defensive struggle. Lawson threw a series of moves at Meeks and got him off balance before dropping the hammer (then making the dish…
Mar 8, 2014, 11:00 AM EST
Late in the third quarter Friday with the Rockets leading the Pacers by 23 points, James Harden and Evan Turner got into it a bit, and the players had to be separated after getting face-to-face and a little shoving ensued. This appeared to be Harden intentionally agitating things, as this play had been whistled dead…
Mar 8, 2014, 9:30 AM EST
Even after three straight losses, the Indiana Pacers remain the team with the league’s best record, though they’re now tied with Oklahoma City for that honor while sitting at 46-16 in the standings. But the last two losses have been troubling. On Wednesday, Indiana lost by 22 points to a Bobcats team that is five…
Mar 8, 2014, 8:00 AM EST
Earlier this week I gave you a few highlights of my conversation with author Jeff Pearlman, who has a fantastic new book out on the Showtime era Lakers. Now, I bring you our entire conversation. In this latest edition of the PBT podcast myself and Eytan Shander of NBC Sports Radio discuss Phil Jackson and his…
Mar 8, 2014, 2:54 AM EST
The Lakers have lost a lot of games this season (42 to be exact), but the historic 48-point blowout loss to the Clippers Thursday night on national television hit the fan base hard. Many of these fans rooting for them to lose and get a better draft pick were embarrassed at the lack of defensive…
Josh McRoberts with an incredible behind-the-back pass to set up Chris Douglas-Roberts for three (VIDEO)
Mar 8, 2014, 12:02 AM EST
This pass was incredible in two distinct ways. First, the ability shown by Josh McRoberts to recognize that his teammate was wide open behind the three-point line from his position in the paint was fantastic. But the pass? It wasn’t just daring to attempt, but the physical level of skill required to get it there…
Sixers coach Brett Brown on whether we’ll see Nerlens Noel play this year: “It really is, ‘Who Knows?’”
Mar 7, 2014, 10:34 PM EST
Nerlens Noel was selected with the sixth overall pick in last summer’s draft, and the Sixers traded Jrue Holiday for him in order to jumpstart their rebuilding process. But we have yet to see Noel take the floor for Philadelphia this season, in much the same way that Andrew Bynum missed his entire year with…
Mar 7, 2014, 9:05 PM EST
It’s been a frustrating season in Milwaukee, and it’s gotten to the point where the team’s players are taking out those emotions violently against their opponents. Ersan Ilyasova received a suspension for the punch-shove combo he delivered to Reggie Evans, and we can expect the same punishment to be handed down to O.J. Mayo, who…
Mar 7, 2014, 7:55 PM EST
The nationally televised schedule of games that appear on TNT Thursday nights is apparently etched in stone. There’s no other way to explain the network keeping a Clippers-Lakers game on the air when a perfectly good Suns-Thunder matchup — one between two high-scoring playoff teams — was on the slate the very same night. Logistics…
Mar 7, 2014, 6:34 PM EST
Teams keep asking if Phil Jackson wants to come back to coaching. This is a guy who has had both hips and one knee replaced (with the other likely), who has spent too many years on the road sleeping in beds too short for his 6’10” frame, having showerheads hit him in the middle of…
Mar 7, 2014, 5:46 PM EST
According to every reliable source, Carmelo Anthony is going to opt out of the final year of his contract this season and look either to re-sign a five-year deal with the Knicks or move on to another team to be part of a contender. If Anthony wants to jump ship and go somewhere like oft-mentioned…
Mar 7, 2014, 4:25 PM EST
You can’t do that. Go ahead and argue that what Milwaukee’s Ersan Ilyasova really did was shove the Kings’ Reggie Evans if you want, you still can’t do that. The two were battling for rebounding position and after the play Ilyasova turned on Evans punch/shoved him and knocked him to the ground. I have checked the NBA…
Mar 7, 2014, 3:55 PM EST
The only time the Timberwolves seemed to take charge in their loss to the Knicks Wednesday night was in the third quarter when Nikola Pekovic took over. It’s not a shock if you’ve watched the Timberwolves this season — he averages 18 points a game on 53.9 percent shooting, the Minnesota offense is 4.7 points…
Woodson says ‘legally, no one can recruit anyone’ in response to Melo-Bulls talk. But that’s not necessarily true.
Mar 7, 2014, 3:23 PM EST
Knicks head coach Mike Woodson has enough to worry about, including whether he’ll even be employed by the team next season, before he can begin to think about what Carmelo Anthony may choose to do as a potential free agent this summer. The latest rumor, of course, had Anthony being told by the Bulls’ Joakim…
Mar 7, 2014, 2:11 PM EST
Here’s the real story: Kevin Love and Tyson Chandler are friends. They met as part of Team USA and like each other, text each other, have worked out together at points in the offseason. Like you with your friends, they like to poke fun at each other sometimes. So when Chandler said Love can’t play…
Mar 7, 2014, 1:29 PM EST
This drives some fans crazy. Maybe they live in a mythical world where they think the players their team should share a hatred of their rivals/opponents. They like to believe that kind of hatred used to exist among players, as if Michael Jordan and Charles Barkley didn’t used to hang out and party together. Players…
Mar 7, 2014, 12:46 PM EST
No matter how his NBA head-coaching career unfolds, Brett Brown will always have a first-season losing record on his résumé. His 76ers will finish somewhere between 15-67 and 36-46 – likely much closer to the former. The 76ers struggling was no surprise. In fact, they’ve probably exceeded expectations. So why did Brown put himself in…
- O.J. Mayo suspended one game for punching Pelicans’ Greg Stiemsma in the throat (VIDEO) 1
- Pacers players hold locker room meeting after getting crushed by Rockets 17
- PBT Podcast: Talking Showtime Lakers with author Jeff Pearlman 8
- After Lakers’ 48-point loss, Laker GM Kupchak, owner Buss met with coach D’Antoni 32
- Report: Knicks offer Phil Jackson a front office position 31