LeBron James was pretty clear about what he thought of his Game 3 performance — “I played like s—.”
He says Game 4 will be different. But does that mean we really know how he will respond and play in Game 4?
And that may be the most frustrating thing about LeBron. It’s not that he chooses to pass out of the double-team to an open teammate, that’s the smart basketball play and that kind of criticism (even before he had a ring) always missed the mark. No, it’s that the most gifted player the league might have ever seen doesn’t impose his will on every contest. He’s unpredictable.
He might dominate the game from start to finish. He might haltingly disappear into the empty spaces. He might grab 20 rebounds or four, might dish out 15 assists or commit seven turnovers, might score 50 or 18. He might get a triple-double without playing well, or he might entirely control the game without putting up interesting numbers. His games are as unpredictable as Indiana Jones movies. Only, sometimes, the boulder crushes him.
Michael Jordan wasn’t like this. Magic Johnson wasn’t like this. In his absolute prime, Kobe Bryant wasn’t like this. It isn’t that they were great every game. They weren’t. But they were predictable in some deeper way. They were inevitable. They played the same aggressive, forceful game every time. True, sometimes the shots didn’t fall. Sometimes the passes didn’t quite connect. Sometimes they even looked to be in a bit of a fog. But they were fundamentally the same. They were recognizable forces of nature.
LeBron James, though, is like a human mood ring. You just never know.
We need to credit Kawhi Leonard and the Spurs defense for how they have approached the Heat in general and LeBron in particular. They are the masters of baiting you into the shots they want you to take.
But rather than impose his will on the game, he has taken the Spurs bait. Hook, line and sinker.
Game 4 might be different, LeBron has sounded like he plans to bring it.
But do we really know? Do we ever really know?