LeBron James has been under the microscope the past few after his fourth quarter absence in the Heat's Game Four loss to the Dallas Mavericks.
Scoring just eight points in the Game Four, James was supposed use Game Five as opportunity to silence his critics and lead the Heat to victory.
On Thursday night, James got a lesson in the difficulties of resurrecting your image when you're facing some tough obstacles.
One obstacle was losing his fellow superstar to an in-game injury. Dwyane Wade was hobbled by his hip, after a first-quarter collision with Brian Cardinal prompted two trips to the locker room. Wade returned, but this wasn't a Willis Reed moment.
With Wade not at his best, the Heat's fate fell on James's shoulders. Considered the best player in the NBA my many experts and fans, this was an opportunity for James to prove he can be counted on in clutch situations.
In the end, James registered a triple-double and his final stat sheet was more than respectable.
But there's no getting around the fact that James once again disappeared when it mattered most. In the fourth quarter, he scored only two points and they didn't come until garbage time when the game was essentially over.
James's fourth quarter play-by-play reads like this: a missed 17-foot jumper (score tied at 100), a missed three pointer (Dallas up five), a made layup (Heat down 103-108).
James did set his teammates up for some nice looks and grabbed several rebounds, but overall his performance was disappointing for a superstar playing in the biggest game of [his] life.
Detractors of James will say he wilted under the pressure of big game when he appeared to be out-classed in the series by his teammate, Wade.
During the Finals, countless advertisements for the upcoming movie Bad Teacher have been shown during timeouts and feature actor Jason Segel's character arguing with a young student about who is better, James or Michael Jordan. Segel's character screams with an almost maniacal look that the only argument he needs to prove that Jordan is better is the six championship rings he's won.
The way James has played in the fourth quarter the last two games, you may not have much trouble relating with Segel. Jordan wouldn't have the accolades he's received over his prestigious career if he had such breakdowns in important situations.
Obviously, it's much too early to write the book on James's career and his legacy can't be decided until he has more time to play with Wade and Chris Bosh.
On the biggest basketball stage in the world, it seems James is being overshadowed by Wade. While James has had subpar performances, Wade looks like the Heat's hero, with a ring under his belt, and his improved play in the Finals.
Considering how brilliant Wade has been all series it's not awful that James is deferring shots to his superstar teammate, but it's the way he's doing it that bothers some. James is drifting away from plays, not attacking the rim, and appears totally uninvolved at times.
One of the most talented players the game has ever seen, the expectations are so high for James that it almost seems that he can't possibly live up to anything but multiple championships.
James's Game Five stats would have been excellent for nearly every player in the NBA, which is what is so fascinating and exasperating about James -- he's can post a triple-double and have it be a failure because he needed to do so much more.
When his team loses, or he doesn't completely dominate, the critical finger is pointed at him. Such is the fate for the man who made the decision to take his talents to South Beach.
For the Heat to win this series, especially if Wade is slowed by injury, James will have to raise his game. Miami needs him to take over a game. The expectations are high, and James, whether he likes it or not, must learn to deal with the pressure and criticism.
Game Six is as good a time as any for the King to play like one.