It’s Time for the Real LeBron to Stand Up
San Antonio — It’s loud. It’s insanely loud. South Texas is hollering at the top of its lungs.
And LeBron James is as quiet as a napping infant.
The Spurs are blowing out the Heat on their home floor. Everyone is standing.
And LeBron James stands there, silent. He looks unmoved, sullen, uninterested — as if he’s waiting in line for nachos on the concourse at halftime.
The NBA Finals are now three games and 12 quarters old, and I’m still waiting for LeBron to definitively take over just one.
Nobody was more impressed by his ability to trust in his teammates during lean times these playoffs. During long stretches of Dwyane Wade clanks and Chris Bosh 20-footers that went just 19, during fumbled passes and altogether slog-like offensive execution, LeBron has stayed true to his guys.
LeBron’s loyalty to players who sometimes are playing so poorly they don’t deserve to be on the floor with him is to be commended in an I-Gotta-Get-Mine world.
But it’s time for him to get his -— to become more Michael than Magic, to be more of a ruthless scorer than a consummate playmaker. It’s time for LeBron to be the game’s most potent force or it will soon be time to admit the harsh truth:
The Spurs just might be better from top to bottom, a collection of parts that work together instead of combust apart during tough times in June.
Of course, late Tuesday night it came out that Tony Parker’s hamstring may well change the tenor of this series completely. The Spurs said yesterday he is day to day. If he can’t go, or if he is severely hampered, good night Spurs.
And if nothing else, at least LeBron agrees with the theory that he has to take more initiative.
“Honestly, I’ve just got to play better,” LeBron said, still perspiring in the Heat locker room. “I can’t have a performance like that and expect to win the game. I’ve got to shoot the ball better and I’ve got to make better decisions. I’m not putting the blame on anybody, I’m owning everything I did.”
San Antonio’s win by knockout, 113-77, was so reminiscent of what the Mavericks did to the Heat two years ago, getting big moments from their star Dirk Nowitzki but also incredible supporting roles from Jason Terry and Jason Kidd and, really, anybody that was open on the perimeter when the ball was sailing.
LeBron doesn’t get most of the grief for this one, though it did take until 1 minute 35 seconds left in the third quarter for him to score his third field goal of the game. Imagine that, a four-time MVP held to just four points through almost three quarters — in a game some of his teammates were just plain dreadful.
If not for his penetration during a 33-5 run in Game 2, if not for one of the two signature plays of these Finals so far — LeBron’s unfathomable block of Tiago Splitter in Game 2 was even more electrifying to watch than Tony Parker’s degree-of-difficulty leaner to clinch Game 1 — the Heat are in huge trouble.
But going into Game 4, Miami has a monstrous problem. Outside of Mike Miller dropping in three-pointers and the off chance Wade gets enough space to take and make a jump shot, there is no consistency on offense.
LeBron and his teammates have morphed into Pat Riley’s old Knicks and Heat, trying to grind out wins solely with defense.
There were a couple of possessions that were just painful to watch from a basic basketball vantage point. LeBron was on the wing once with Duncan, who moves like molasses laterally, guarding him. He thought about driving, but instead pulled up for a jumper. Back rim.
Another time Gary Neal got caught in a switch. LeBron dribbled twice and put up another deep jump shot. In and out.
There’s a reason he has only been to the free-throw line six times in three games and none Tuesday night, and it’s not officiating backlash to any talk of conspiracy. No, he doesn’t just put his head and shoulder down and draw contact to get there at the moment.
“They’re packing the paint, playing off of him,” Erik Spoelstra explained. The Heat coach didn’t seem worried, adding, “He’ll figure it out. He always figures it out. I’m not concerned about that. We’ll work to make sure that’s he’s getting to places he can be comfortable and confident.”
A lot of it has to do with how precise the Spurs are playing and the contribution they’re getting outside of their Big Three — Neal and Danny Green dropped in a combined 13 three-pointers and finished with 51 points between them.
Kawhi Leonard puts up double-doubles like he’s Kevin Love or Elton Brand, circa early 2000s. He finished with 14 points and 12 rebounds on Tuesday night and, more importantly, became so attached to LeBron on defense he practically needed to be pried off him.
But this still comes down to the best player on the floor deciding to take over a game and a series before it’s too late, and LeBron and his teammates find themselves just trying to take one game to bring the series back to Miami.
Funny, no, how so much fuss was made March 31 when LeBron, Wade and Mario Chalmers did not play here against the Spurs - a marquee Sunday TV game. The Heat said they all had legitimate injuries, but the Spurs took it as payback for an early-season game in which Gregg Popovich sent his best players home on a commercial flight before the Miami game, a stunt that earned the organization a $250,000 fine.
In hindsight, San Antonio should not have taken it personal — because LeBron, Wade (another lackluster second half) and Chalmers (no points two nights after he led the Heat with 19) didn’t show up for Game 3 either Tuesday night.
The final horn just sounded. It’s loud. It’s ear-splitting loud.
And none of the noise is coming from LeBron, who better say and do something before another championship slips away.
“I’m putting everything on my chest and my shoulders and I’ve got to be better,” LeBron said. “My teammates were doing a good job, I’m not doing my part. It’s frustrating when you get smashed like that. I’m still sweating from the game. I’m not happy, I’m very upset about the game. There’s tomorrow, we’ll prepare and we’ll be better and I’ll be better.”