Through three games of the NBA Finals, LeBron James is averaging 16.3 points a game on 38.9 percent shooting — the best player on the planet has looked average (well, for him).
And passive. In Game 3 Tuesday night with the Spurs packing the paint and having defenders playing a step off him in isolation, LeBron settled for the jumpshots the Spurs wanted him to take. Credit Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green for being at the point of a good Spurs defense, but LeBron didn’t challenge that defense. The result was an ugly 7-of-21 shooting night with zero free throw attempts. And an embarrassing Heat loss that in part flowed out of that.
“Well, honestly I just have to play better,” an up front James said after the game. “I can’t have a performance like tonight and expect to win. I’ve got to shoot the ball better, make better decisions and I will get into the film and see ways that I can do that. I’m not putting blame on anybody, I’m owning everything that I did tonight.”
With Chris Bosh unable to hit midrange jumpers he nailed all season, and with Dwyane Wade slowed and the Heat playing off him (they are almost ignoring him on the perimeter to pack the paint), the Heat need LeBron to be the best player in the game today. They can’t win otherwise. While his instinct is to pass out of the double and take the open shot when he gets it, now it is time for him to put his head down and get to the rim.
When LeBron attacked Tuesday night he was fine — he hit 5-of-7 shots within 5 feet of the rim. But the Spurs made it hard to get those shots while daring him to shoot from the midrange and beyond. LeBron took the bait and hit 1-of-9 from the midrange and 1-of-5 from three. During the season he was a solid outside shooter (43 percent from the midrange and 40.6 percent from three) but that shot has deserted him in the finals. He’s not making up for that by attacking the rim.
“I have to do better,” LeBron reiterated. “If I’m better we’re better and I have to be better. I’m putting everything on my chest and on my shoulders and I have to be better. My teammates are doing a great job and I’m not doing my part.”
The Spurs are not going to change what they are doing or who they are doing it with. It’s up to LeBron to solve this himself. Do that and the Heat can even this series Thursday night, but one more game like this and Miami is going to be in a hole it will not be able to dig out of.
The Toronto Raptors will finish with the No. 1 seed and all the best metrics in the East, but they have a history of playoff flameouts. The Boston Celtics’ have been hit hard by injuries. And the Cleveland Cavaliers have LeBron James but also a dreadful defense, this is the most vulnerable a LeBron led team has been since he bolted Cleveland seven years ago.
So what team is coming out of the East?
We get into that in this latest PBT Extra. A poll on Twitter found most of you think the Cavaliers, but personally, I think the Raptors — who have been better defensively all season than the Cavs — may finally have their year.
SAN ANTONIO (AP) — LaMarcus Aldridge had a career-high 45 points, helping San Antonio overcome Donovan Mitchell‘s 35-point performance for Utah in the Spurs’ 124-120 overtime victory over the Jazz on Friday night.
The Spurs won their sixth straight and beat the Jazz for the first time in four meetings this season.
Utah’s 12-game road winning streak came to an end, but only after Mitchell had 14 points in the fourth quarter, including three 3-pointers in the final two minutes to force overtime.
San Antonio remained sixth in the Western Conference with the same record as fifth-place New Orleans, a half-game behind Oklahoma City for fourth. Utah remained eighth in the West.
After free throws by Spurs guards Manu Ginobili and Patty Mills and a dunk by Jazz center Rudy Gobert put San Antonio up 114-111, Mitchell drained his third 3-pointer of the fourth with 3.6 seconds remaining to force overtime.
Mills, who finished with 23 points, had six points in overtime as the Spurs capped an undefeated six-game homestand.
Aldridge averaged 32.2 points and 9.0 rebounds during the winning streak, including two double-doubles.
Aldridge scored 28 points in the first half on 12-for-16 shooting, including a 3-pointer.
Utah missed its first six shots and was 4 for 14 as San Antonio grabbed a 19-8 lead midway through the first quarter. Mitchell settled the Jazz, scoring six points to cut the Spurs lead to 29-21 heading into the second quarter.
Mitchell was 14-for-35 shooting while falling six points shy of his season-high.
Derrick Favors added 22 points for Utah and Ricky Rubio had 20.
Ginobili finished with 18 points for the Spurs.
In his first night back from an ankle injury that forced him to miss six games, Stephen Curry limped off the court not to return after in third quarter Friday night after JaVale McGee fell into his knee.
He limped to the bench then eventually to the locker room after the injury.
The severity of the injury is not yet known and should become clear on Saturday after an MRI.
Curry scored 29 points and grabbed seven rebounds before being forced to leave the game, and the Warriors held on to win the game.
Obviously, if Curry is out heading into the playoffs, that changes the dynamic in the West, where the Houston Rockets were already right on the heels of the Warriors.
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Bojan Bogdanovic scored 28 points and the Indiana Pacers used a late 9-0 run to hold on for a 109-104 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers on Friday night, putting them on the precipice of clinching a playoff spot.
The Pacers won for only the second time in five games but can clinch a playoff berth with one more win or a Detroit loss.
Los Angeles’ fading playoff aspirations were dealt another blow. The Clippers are now three games behind Utah for the final postseason spot in the Western Conference. Utah was playing later Friday.
Lou Williams led Los Angeles with 27 points and DeAndre Jordan finished with 14 points and 11 rebounds as the Clippers lost for the fifth time in six games.
They certainly had a chance to turn things around.
After the Clippers rallied from an 18-point deficit to take an 88-87 lead with 7:36 left in the fourth quarter, the teams traded the lead 10 times before Victor Oladipo made one of two free throws to leave it tied at 100 with 2:17 to play.
Bogdanovic broke the tie with a 12-footer and the Pacers followed that with seven straight points before Williams made a layup with 12 seconds left to end the run.
The Clippers were making shots early but couldn’t pull away from Indiana.
They led 28-27 after one and allowed Indiana to use a 9-2 spurt midway through the second quarter to erase a six-point deficit and take a 40-39 lead.
The Pacers scored the final five points of the half to break a 53-all tie and broke it open early in the third when Oladipo made his first three shots of the game, including two 3-pointers to make it 66-55.
Indiana then poured it on. Thaddeus Young‘s layup with 9:02 left in the third made it a 12-point game. Milos Teodosic‘s basket briefly halted the run, but the Pacers scored the next nine points to make it 75-57 with 6:19 to go.
Los Angeles closed the third quarter on a 12-5 run to get to 82-76.