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 16, 2014, 9:14 PM EDT
The matchups aren’t all set, but this gives us an idea of who plays when as the playoffs open this weekend.
Apr 16, 2014, 7:48 PM EDT
Knicks make it official and announce they’ve signed Lamar Odom for the remainder of the season.
Apr 16, 2014, 6:59 PM EDT
Durant and LeBron at the top of the MVP ballot is easy, it’s filling out spots 3-5 that is the challenge.
Apr 16, 2014, 6:15 PM EDT
Kohl is going to pitch in $100 million to get a new arena built in Milwaukee.
Apr 16, 2014, 5:15 PM EDT
Teams will like his speed, but he’s destined for a second round pick.
Apr 16, 2014, 4:29 PM EDT
While the Lakers end their dreary season Kobe Bryant is already on vacation.
Apr 16, 2014, 3:46 PM EDT
Clippers forward: ‘It doesn’t really affect me, but so many guys would probably benefit’
Apr 16, 2014, 2:49 PM EDT
The Spurs have crushed the Grizzlies and Mavericks this season, so those teams are motivated to avoid a trip to the Riverwalk to start the postseason.
Apr 16, 2014, 2:14 PM EDT
First team nearly a clean sweep, but one top teamer didn’t even make other two ballots
Apr 16, 2014, 2:03 PM EDT
NBA could still rescind the technical
Apr 16, 2014, 1:32 PM EDT
New research delivers answer
Apr 16, 2014, 12:57 PM EDT
New York based hedge fund billionaires Marc Lasry and Wes Edens are buying the team but keeping it in Wisconsin, they just need to get a new arena built.
Apr 16, 2014, 12:50 PM EDT
Two very different candidates signify wide search
Apr 16, 2014, 12:22 PM EDT
Knicks center knows, though, he might have no choice
Apr 16, 2014, 11:46 AM EDT
You can’t do enough Animal House references to make me happy.
Apr 16, 2014, 11:09 AM EDT
Duo leaves Michigan after their sophomore years
Apr 16, 2014, 9:55 AM EDT
How many years feature three of the best records in a franchise’s history?
Apr 16, 2014, 9:22 AM EDT
Bulls give Greg Smith, Ronnie Brewer, Lou Amnundson and Mike James multi-year contracts
Apr 16, 2014, 8:45 AM EDT
Nothing like waiting until the last minute to figure things out.
Apr 16, 2014, 8:00 AM EDT
Nine combined spots on the ballot go to eight different players, and none of our winners made the other two’s top three
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