It was the quietest 30-point effort I've ever seen.
It was, to be exact, 30 points, 9 rebounds -- and no desire to take over late.
It was the antithesis of Kevin Durant's night of 36 points, 17 in the fourth quarter.
It was LeBron James.
No player is more scrutinized than James; calling him out after what would be a career night for many NBA players is unfair, but it is also his reality. And the reality is that for yet another game in the NBA Finals, he disappeared when his team needed him most. He settled on far too many jumpers, even though he was nearly unstoppable when he was attacking the paint. He stood five feet off the three-point line late in the game, deferring to Dwyane Wade and rifling unnecessary passes to Shane Battier or Wade when he did get the ball.
For a Miami Heat team that is 33-4 this season and 8-0 in the playoffs when it scores 100 points, James' refusal to get his team over the hump once again was alarming. To be fair, a chunk of the blame goes to Chris Bosh and Wade as well, who looked terribly slow and uncomfortable in Game 1, dominating the ball frequently in half-court possessions and forcing errant jumpers. But as Wade said in a pre-Finals interview, James is the best player on the planet. If that's true, then James has to take control of his team before it's too late.
Oklahoma City is an absolute juggernaut. Just as was the case against San Antonio, no lead is safe against them. Miami, who lost 105-94, jumped out to a 13-point lead Tuesday night against a team that hardly ever loses at home. James had the perfect opportunity to put his foot down and seize control of this series by imposing his will on the defense -- instead, it was Kevin Durant who did. James, however, didn't want any part of it. Scoring one basket in the first 8:15 of the fourth was eerily reminiscent of last year's Finals against Dallas, when he averaged a mere three points in the fourth quarters of the Mavs' six-game series win.
As this series shifts to Game 2, Miami's best hope is for its best player to play like it ... for all four quarters. The OKC defense will continue to use its remarkable speed to rotate help, as defensive ace Thabo Sefolosha continues to hound James on the perimeter and on the block. Last night, he held James to 7 points on 29 percent shooting (per ESPN Stats & Info).
Do Wade and Bosh have to play better for the Heat to win? Yes, they do. But nothing is new here: James is the key. He has to find ... whatever it is he found in Game 6 at Boston in the Eastern finals, and channel his inner alpha male.
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