In the regular season, LeBron James actually played well in the fourth quarter — he had the second highest fourth quarter PER in the league. Part of the reason is that the Heat’s rotation let him sit the first four to five minutes of the quarter and rest, then come in with real energy.
In the playoffs — especially the Eastern Conference Finals and Game 1 against Oklahoma City — there has been almost no rest for LeBron.
The result? In Game 1 it was a quiet 7 points on 2-for-6 shooting, with him settling for a lot of jumpers. After the game in the interview room, he looked and sounded tired.
In Game 2 the Heat are going to ask more of LeBron — he likely logs minutes defending Kevin Durant plus he needs to take on more of the offense if Dwyane Wade can’t — and he may well have to do it without rest. Here is what Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said, via Brian Windhorst at ESPN.
“We were able to manage his minutes pretty much at a career-low level for the majority of the regular season, and you get to this point, we have 12 days left, I know he has the mentality that he’ll do whatever it takes,” Spoelstra said. “I want him fresh so I’ll work to try to get him some rest, and ideally it won’t be 48, 53, whatever it is.”
Lack of rest isn’t going to fly as an excuse. Nor should it. But this is where the depth of the Thunder pays dividends — they can rest one or two of their “big three” at a time and not really suffer a huge drop off. When LeBron sits the Heat struggle right now. Do that for too long against the Thunder and the Heat will find themselves in a deep hole. The Thunder will be relentless.
It’s something to watch in Game 2 — can LeBron just get a few minutes of rest? How does that impact him when the game is on the line?
It’s just part of the huge mountain the Heat have to climb. And it is a steep one.