Now Or Never: Is LeBron's Legacy On The Line In Game 4 Of The Finals?

 
on June 13 2013 11:36 AM
Now Or Never: Is LeBron's Legacy On The Line In Game 4 Of The Finals?

As good as LeBron James is, he is just one man.

It's sometimes hard to believe, but he is only human.

The four-time MVP had one of the worst outings of his career in Tuesday's 113-77 blowout loss to the San Antonio Spurs in Game 3 of the NBA Finals, which the Spurs now lead 2-1. James missed 11 of his first 13 shots, finishing 7-21 from the field for 15 points.

He has yet to reach the 20 point mark in these finals.

This was far more concerning, LeBron's plus/minus ratio was the worst it had been in his ENTIRE career (-32). A staggering statistic. He failed to get to the free throw line even once, the first time that has occurred in his Miami postseason career. It is also the first time since 2nd December 2009 that he has failed to get to the line in ANY game.

Alarming to say the least.

James did manage to grab 11 rebounds, but his creativity was hampered for much of the game, evident by his modest total of 5 assists. Hardly the sort of thing you expect from the most dominant player in a generation.

So, just what is going wrong?

Firstly, we must give credit to the job second-year pro Kawhi Leonard is doing on James. Leonard is showing why people have recognised him as one of the best perimeter defenders in the league this season. He is smothering James, not letting him get space to drive and making him reliant on pull-up jump shots. To hold James under 20 points in three consecutive games is no mean feat, yet Leonard's points contribution has almost nullified James completely during the Spurs' two victories, his 14 points and 12 rebounds on Tuesday night cancelling out James' contribution almost entirely. If Leonard can keep this up, it will be one of the finest defensive showings in finals history, without question. LeBron will have to find answers to Leonard's stellar defensive play if he is to drag Miami out of the hole they're in.

Make no mistake, James is the only man who can do this. His teammates haven't been anywhere near as consistent as they're capable of being, which has inadvertantly put the team's hopes squarely on the shoulders of James. How ironic then, that the situation LeBron finds himself in now was the same situation he was so quick to abandon in Cleveland. LeBron is great, there's no denying that, maybe one day he will be the greatest of them all. Every great player throughout history has had a good supporting cast to help them achieve immortality. Jordan had Pippen, Magic had Kareem, Shaq had Kobe.

LeBron has Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.

Well, in theory.

Wade and Bosh have been an extreme disappointment thus far, something that has to improve dramatically if the Heat are to win the Championship. The Spurs have a team dynamic, each one contributing in their own way. The Heat have become far too reliant on James, seemingly happy to stand around while James tries to do it all. This mindset must change, particularly because the Spurs seem to have figured out how to limit James' effectiveness.

Wade has been playing hurt for most of the season and is clearly not himself. He is the shadow of the player we're used to seeing. His knees have troubled him for most of the season and he has lost his burst that seperates him from other players. Now, you can get away with that in the regular season, but this is the NBA finals and his struggles are being exposed, especially when you consider how well Gary Neal and Danny Green have been playing throughout this series, in particular Game 3, where they were simply lights-out, going a combined 13-19 from 3-point range in Tuesday's blowout. However painful it may be for him, the Heat need more from Wade in Game 4, which has now become a 'must win' for the Heat. Wade was 7-15 for 16 points in Game 3, so there is some small signs of life. With LeBron finding it hard to figure out the looks the Spurs are giving him, it is not enough. Wade must stop being a passenger and demand more responsibility if the Heat are to turn the tables on the rampant Spurs.

While there is some hope that Wade's contribution will improve, there is almost none for Bosh. Despite 12 points and 10 rebounds in Game 3, he was 4-10 from the field and almost non-existent. His post game has completely deserted him and the ageless Tim Duncan is bullying him on almost every possession. He seems incapable of getting position in the post, instead relying almost entirely on mid-range jump shots which have been far from profitable so far in this series. Bosh seems in awe of Duncan at times, almost intimidated by his mere presence on the court. It has got so bad for Bosh that the Spurs are actually leaving him open when they rotate to double team James or Wade, that's how much he has been struggling with his shot. Not really how an All-Star is meant to be performing in an NBA Finals. The problem for Coach Erik Spoelstra is that he has no other viable options on the interior that he can go to. Chris Andersen and Udonis Haslem aren't exactly renowned for their offensive prowess, so all Spoelstra can do it hope Bosh pulls himself out of the slump he has found himself in for most of the Playoffs. The chances are slim, and it's more weight on James' shoulders if he can't trust Bosh to knock down a shot when he's wide open.

Mario Chalmers is another of the Heat who is incredibly inconsistent, something that has been clearly visible during the last two games. Game 2 Chalmers led all scorers with 19 points off 6-12 shooting. Game 3 couldn't have been more opposite in terms of his performance. In foul trouble early, Chalmers was 0-5 in 20 minutes for no points and just one assist. Whilst Chalmers won't be held as accountable as the 'Big Three', he still has to justify his minutes on the court, especially with Norris Cole proving he is more than capable of stepping up if Chalmers is failing to produce. He may have also had some good fortune with Tony Parker's injury, MRI scans revealing a partial tear which has the French phenom listed as 'Day-to-Day'. It is not expected to keep Parker out of Game 4 but it will be something to keep an eye on if his condition deteriorates.

One positive for the Heat has been the performance of Mike Miller during these finals. Miller was virtually anonymous during the season but has gone 10-11 throughout the first three games of the finals. Of course, most of these have been from three-point range, making it even more impressive. Look for James and company to count on Miller continuing this rich vein of form rather than giving looks to players who have been struggling with their shot. Just how much Miller has left in the tank is anybody's guess, giving his well-documented back problems his lack of match fitness. It says a lot about the Heat that Miller has been getting minutes, proof positive that they are running out of people to rely on, and quickly.

These are all struggles that the Heat can live with, providing James is playing at the MVP level we have taken for granted over the years. This is not the case, at least up to now. James has vowed 'To do everything in my power' to level up the series tonight, which should indicate an improved performance is on the way. He will need to be at his brilliant best, as a defeat will have the Spurs 3-1 ahead and looking to clinch Sunday night, at home. It would be almost impossible to come back from such a deficit.

LeBron must get back to basics, using his power to get to the rim and getting to the foul line. There isn't a small forward in the league who can guard James on the block and as well as Leonard has been doing, he would find it difficult and draining guarding James consistently in the post. This would involve James handling the ball a little less, but needs must at this stage of the season and the best way for James to score would be the closer he got to the rim. When he is handling the ball, he must let plays develop and allow his teammates to get into position to help the designated play, something that was missing in Game 3. James' lack of trust in his colleagues saw him take difficult shots earlier than they anticipated, which led to easy transition points for the Spurs, who picked the Heat off at will.

The Spurs have all the answers so far, adjustments must be made from the greatest player of modern times.

Time to show everyone why he has the nicknamed 'The King'.

He is only human, his Heat teammates will do well to remember that from time-to-time.

Dean Jones: Follow me on Twitter @DeanJones_

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