LeBron James looked loose during his post-game news conference – smiling as he described the Spurs’ final play as “the longest 24 seconds that I’ve been a part of,” repeatedly asking reporters how the box score could give the Spurs 21 second-chance points on six offensive rebounds, admitting the third quarter had taken so much out of him that he request to rest early in the fourth quarter.
I’m not one to criticize LeBron for lacking a killer instinct, and I won’t start now, but LeBron can be prone to spurts of passiveness, and he had one tonight.
In the first 8:30 of the fourth quarter, LeBron scored zero points. To be fair, he spent the first three minutes on the bench, but he should have asserted himself sooner once he hit the court. LeBron knows his talent allows to him to make plays his teammates can’t and plays accordingly, but he doesn’t always recognize how wide the gap is – especially when Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh aren’t performing at even an All-Star, let alone superstar, levels.
Finally, Erik Spoelstra demanded his Most Valuable Player to play like one. With 3:30 left, Spoelstra pulled Miami’s other point guards, forcing LeBron to dominate the ball even more, and had LeBron guard Tony Parker, who had been giving the Heat fits.
In his new roles, LeBron immediately stepped up.
He ran a pick-and-roll with Chis Bosh, setting up Bosh for a quality look in the paint. Bosh missed, but LeBron converted the putback. On the ensuing defensive possession, Parker missed a jumper over LeBron. The play before Spoelstra pulled Mario Chalmers, Parker made a similar look over Chalmers.
LeBron then drew a foul on Parker, though it wasn’t a shooting foul, and LeBron missed a 3-pointer later in the possession. A Parker-Tim Duncan pick-and-roll went nowhere with LeBron defending, but Danny Green made a 3-pointer as Mike Miller was slow to close.
LeBron drove for a left-handed layup and grabbed a defensive rebound on San Antonio’s next possession. He pushed the ball upcourt and passed to Ray Allen, who was fouled while attempting a 3-pointer and made all three free throws. Back on defense, LeBron provided excellent help on a rolling Duncan, but Bosh, after falling badly for a pump fake, fouled Duncan.
LeBron then penetrated and kicked to a wide open Bosh, who missed a 3-pointer. LeBron grabbed the defensive rebound on the next possession, took the ball all the way himself, drew a foul and made both free throws.
In all, LeBron had six points and three rebounds during the final 3:30 – numbers that would project to 72 points and 36 rebounds in the 42 minutes he played tonight. Obviously, those numbers are unsustainable in a larger sample, but they speak to how dominant he was in those crucial moments.
In that closing stretch, the Heat outscored the Spurs by two points, but it was all for naught. Miami was down by six before it even began.
Parker was too good, and LeBron wasn’t quite good enough before that. Keep in mind, LeBron had a triple-double before his dominant final minutes began. We’re talking about one of the all-time greats playing a great game in the NBA Finals.
It just wasn’t great enough tonight.