National Columnist

LeBron fails to show up in Game 3, Heat follow lead


SAN ANTONIO -- This is on LeBron. All of it. Every 3-pointer the Spurs made, every easy bucket the Heat missed. Everything.

It's on LeBron, and not just because he said so. Although he did. After the game, in the cramped visitors' locker room where LeBron was still sweating as he met the media, he said this historically bad game by the Miami Heat -- this 113-77 loss, an unfathomable 36-point blowout in Game 3 of the NBA Finals -- was his fault.

"I'm putting everything on my chest, on my shoulders," he said.

Which is exactly where everything should go. Other players for the Miami Heat were also bad, of course, but none of them is the No. 1 player in the world. Still, with fairness in mind, let the record show:

After leading the Heat with 19 points in Game 2, Mario Chalmers didn't score at all in Game 3. Dwyane Wade played 34 minutes and grabbed as many rebounds as you did. Whoever was defending Danny Green and Gary Neal did a deplorable job, seeing how that duo combined for 51 points and went 13 for 19 on 3-pointers. Udonis Haslem started at power forward and had zero points and three rebounds in 10 minutes before Heat coach Erik Spoelstra had seen enough from Haslem -- and by that I mean, he hadn't seen anything from Haslem -- and took him out of the game for good.

Spoelstra wasn't good, either. Look, I can't break down a game from an X-and-O standpoint, and I won't try. Want to read media members who think they can? Go to the library and read Grisham, since fiction is what you're after. But I can tell you this: Heat veteran Mike Miller was limping all over the court in the third quarter, bending over in pain and grabbing his lower leg, and way up there in the media seating in the rafters I could see it. Way down there on the court, Spoelstra couldn't. Miller was frozen in pain when two Heat players checked into the game, and he started to limp toward the bench. An assistant waved him back onto the court: Not you, Miller.

My point is, if Spoelstra couldn't see Miller was in agony 15 feet away, he surely missed other stuff. His team lost by 36 -- he surely missed a lot of stuff. Lose a game this badly, and the head coach deserves some blame.

But then again, the head coach has an excuse. The best player in the world is on his team, and the best player in the world -- the team's absolute and only leader -- never showed up. And if LeBron can't be bothered to show up, not on offense or defense, why should his teammates?

That's why this loss is his fault, and by that I mean every portion of this loss. All 16 of those 3-pointers by Green and Neal? LeBron's fault. The Spurs' 52-36 advantage on the boards? LeBron's fault.

LeBron was indifferent in this game, unaffected by the magnitude of the moment in the worst way possible. Biggest game of the year and he never got going, never really tried until it was way too late. Know how many times this 6-foot-9, 275-pound locomotive got to the foul line? Zero. Never. None.

The last time LeBron James played a game without shooting a single free throw was 2009. Coming into Tuesday night, he had played 898 games in his NBA career, regular season and postseason, and he had failed to shoot a free throw in just eight of them.

No. 9 was Tuesday night. Game 3. NBA Finals.

How does that happen?

So many questions. LeBron was defended by Kawhi Leonard, and he was scared. Of Kawhi Leonard. How? Why? Huh?

Maybe you didn't see it that way, but I did. I saw LeBron with the ball in his hands and Kawhi Leonard between him and the rim, and Leonard backing off, daring LeBron to shoot it. And LeBron wouldn't shoot it. He passed to Bosh so Bosh could shoot it. He passed to Wade. To Chalmers. He'd have passed it to me, if I was sitting closer.

After one quarter LeBron had taken just two shots. After one half he had scored just four points. Late in the third quarter he was 2-for-13 from the floor, and the Spurs led by 21 points. LeBron didn't start attacking until the game was out of hand. The pressure was off. The game was over, and here comes LeBron.

This was 2011 all over again, those NBA Finals when LeBron shrank in the fourth quarter of pretty much every game against the Dallas Mavericks. LeBron seemed to fix things last season, leading the Heat past the Thunder for the title, but here we are again.

LeBron isn't right. The Spurs saw it. Spurs swingman Danny Green said it best:

"We know he's not at his best right now," Green said, and before anyone in the media could get the impression that the Spurs were the reason for that, Green said something else.

"It's not just us stopping him," Green said of LeBron. "He's kind of stopped himself out there. We're getting a little lucky."

This didn't start in Game 3, either. LeBron hasn't been right since Game 1, when he scored 18 points on 16 shots. He grabbed 18 rebounds and he had 10 assists, and we dutifully applauded his triple-double, but the Heat did lose -- and from a scoring standpoint, he wasn't right.

LeBron was much worse in Game 2, but the Heat won and winning is perfume on all kinds of stink, even when that smell is coming from the most scrutinized player in the NBA. LeBron missed 10 of his first 12 shots in Game 2, and he didn't get going until Mario Chalmers, Mike Miller and Ray Allen got going first. LeBron grabbed ahold of their coattails and started to feel good about himself and soon he was blocking a Tiago Splitter dunk and he was dunking and hitting a 3-pointer and celebrating all over the court, as if he'd been the difference in Game 2. And he wasn't. He was great in the fourth quarter, but Mario Chalmers was Batman in Game 2. LeBron was Robin.

Now, Game 3. LeBron was Robin ... Williams. He was funny, he was so bad -- missing layups, throwing an 8-footer off the underside of the front of the rim, letting Kawhi Leonard abuse him on the boards, letting Tracy McGrady embarrass him in the open court.

You saw that, right? That play showed that this isn't just a shooting issue for LeBron. He's in a funk, and has been since the NBA Finals started, and it has gotten worse by the game until it culminated Tuesday night with aging, overweight, mostly immobile Tracy McGrady pump-faking LeBron into the air in the fourth quarter, going around him and then feeding Tiago Splitter for a dunk.

The score was 99-71. Less than a minute later, Spoelstra made his best coaching move of the game and got LeBron the hell out of there.

Dwyane Wade tried to protect LeBron, because that's what the Heat do. They cover for him. This is what Wade said when asked if LeBron was sick or something.

"He's not sick," Wade said. "I don't know. I don't think so. I think he's 100 percent. He's fine. He can't have an off game?"

Good question.

And the answer is: No. Not LeBron James. Not in the NBA Finals.

Gregg Doyel is a columnist for He covered the ACC for the Charlotte Observer, the Marlins for the Miami Herald, and Brooksville (Fla.) Hernando for the Tampa Tribune. He was 4-0 (3 KO's!) as an amateur boxer, and volunteers for the ALS Association. Follow Gregg Doyel on Twitter.

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