OAKLAND — LeBron James has always been a master of controlling the narrative. When you’re the most powerful person in the sport of basketball, any little public action will immediately change the conversation. That’s exactly what he did on Friday.
Thursday night, James missed a stepback jumper at the end of regulation of Game 1 of the Finals, which would have given the Cavs a road victory over the Warriors, and it’s still eating away at him. At the beginning of Cavs practice on Tuesday, he took an unusual step: before his media availability, he walked out onto the Oracle Arena floor and worked up a legitimate sweat, practicing the exact shot he missed to force an overtime. The missed shot and missed opportunity were clearly still eating away at him a day later.
“It’s not a great feeling, for sure,” James said. “I didn’t get much sleep last night. You just play your mind just plays with you so much throughout the course of the night. Different plays, different scenarios, different points of the game where you could have made a play here, could have made a play there to help your team win. So the mind never lets you at ease. So it’s always a tough 24 or 48 or whatever case, how many hours it is. But at some point you get to the film room, which I’ve already started, and you start to prepare yourself mentally on what needs to be done going into Game 2.”
James couldn’t have done much more than he did in Game 1. He scored 44 points, a Finals career high. But that’s exactly what the Warriors wanted — if he scores that much and his teammates can’t get going, this banged-up Cavs roster is much more solvable than it is when he’s in distributor mode.
“You definitely take the 44 with not as many assists,” Golden State forward Harrison Barnes said on Friday. “As opposed to him getting 25 and 10 assists, and then J.R. Smith, Tristan Thompson, Dellavedova, those guys having big games. So we’re forcing him to be a scorer. You kind of let him do that and try to limit everybody else.”
James took exception to the notion that any team was letting him score as a primary defensive option.
“First of all, you don’t let me have 40,” he said defiantly. “I go get 40. It’s not like they’re just getting out of the way. So those guys aren’t saying we’re okay with letting him have 40. You don’t let me have 40; I’m making those shots.”
There are different kinds of LeBron James 40-point games, something the Warriors understand well. Sometimes he’s such a force of nature that the defense is helpless to contain him. Other times, he gets his points but has to take difficult shots. That’s what the Warriors forced him to do, and that’s why they were able to overcome the will of the greatest player in the world.
“There were some times when he played the defense perfectly,” Barnes said. “Got into the paint, the help was there, we contested a shot, and he makes a difficult shot. You have to live with those. And then there are other times when, OK, you got beat under a screen and he was too wide open and you let him get into his rhythm. You have to know the difference between, ‘he made a tough shot’ and ‘we could have made that shot tougher for him.'”
That’s how the Warriors are going to continue to play James, and he’s going to have to make them pay, especially with the news that Kyrie Irving is out for several months with a knee fracture. That’s why he was working on the exact shot he missed at the end on Thursday.
“When you take a shot and you miss you have so many different thoughts in your mind saying okay, I should have done this or I should have done that,” James said. “When you take a shot and you make it, there is really nothing else to think about. But for me I got to a spot where I’m comfortable making the shot. Stepback going left, that’s a shot that I’m very capable of making obviously in rhythm, which I was. It just didn’t go down for me.”
For the Cavs to not get swept, it will have to.