For the fifth straight game of The Finals, LeBron James pulled a fourth quarter disappearing act even the great Houdini would envy. He was timid, hesitant and lacking any rhythm, settling for challenging jump shots and refusing to enforce his normally unstoppable will on the Dallas defense.
Pundits will say he had a triple-double, which is quite the feat, no question.
But look beyond the numbers for a second. Actually, just look at the only number that matters: 2. Two is the total number of points James scored in the fourth -- and it was a concessional layup the Mavs allowed. When his team needed him most, James didn’t deliver. Again.
For The Finals, he is averaging a measly 2.2 points in the fourth quarter.
His triple-double in Game 5 was but a paper-thin charade of yet another colossally disappointing failure in a close game that is quickly becoming more than merely a trend.
With the game on the line possession after possession, he deferred to Dwyane Wade, who found a way to perform at a very high level despite a painful hip contusion. While James surely made some superb passes, he rarely looked for his own shot and went 0-fer from three. At some point, James needs to realize the best chance for the Heat to win is him being selfish -- knowing he's the best player on the floor. Because what's a better shot for Miami: a contested LeBron layup or a Mike Miller step-back three?
Once again, this goes back to my point that Wade is the only true killer on this team.
Perhaps it's time we accept LeBron for what he is; a terrific player with a beta-male mentality. Maybe then we won't be so disappointed when he fails to take over in crunch time.
Now, to be fair, I have to touch on Erik Spoelstra's inept management of LeBron's minutes. No other player has logged more minutes than James in this series. After his brief 2 1/2 minute stretch on the bench in the second quarter, he didn’t come out again. James may not ever appear tired, but even he gets fatigued. The Heat managed to score just 11 fastbreak points and in large part, didn’t appear to have the swashbuckling speed and style we have grown accustomed to seeing from them. With a tired James, perhaps Miami couldn’t push tempo the way it normally does.
When Wade returned in the third quarter, it was shocking to see James remain on the floor. James was just 4-13 when the two played together in Game 5. Now, a part of that goes back to him simply not being assertive enough offensively, but again part of the blame falls on Spoelstra, who, for whatever reason, refuses to rest his star. James hasn't come out of the second half in nine consecutive playoff games, which is completely unacceptable.
Sure Dirk Nowitzki plays heavy minutes, but Rick Carlisle does a splendid job of finding him extended periods of time on the bench. Staggering a substitution with a timeout is an effective method, as is subbing leading into quarter breaks. Between the Mavs' zone defense and substitution pattern, the coaching advantage in this series has been evident.
Spoelstra has shown little if any ability to adjust in-game and find the soft spots which exists in every zone. Chris Bosh was fantastic in the first half with 13 big points. After the break though, the Heat went away from him. In his postgame presser, he appeared displeased with his team's inability to find him at any juncture in the second half. And he should be. Bosh's patented high post jumper is the relief valve Spoelstra kept harping on which Dallas found offensively, but in truth, it was the relief that Miami so desperately needed to break the zone.
With that in mind, James is supposedly the best player on the planet. Being tired is one thing, but shrinking all together is another.
Why did James feel the need to post up eight times when the guy has shown zero capability on the block throughout his career? Why didn’t he punish Jason Kidd by attacking the basket? Why did he let Shawn Marion dictate his every move instead of forcing him to defend the way he wanted?
And most important, James elected not to take over the game with Wade out for the better half of the third quarter, taking a measly three shots. James -- who averaged 8.8 free throws against Chicago -- attempted just two in Game 5 and has taken just 16 the entire series.
If James wants to deliver on all the promises he made before the season, a massive change needs to come about. If he wants to reach the apex of the basketball lexicon, he has to be more aggressive and, as hard as it may be for him, he has to force the issue. Don't worry so much about incorporating others and instead, worry about getting himself going. Take on an entirely new approach altogether and ditch the facilitation duties. If he fails to change, then Miami will lose Game 6 at home and James' legacy will perhaps be forever tarnished.
The ball is in your court ... King.
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