National Columnist

Lack of leadership, effort have Heat on brink of elimination


SAN ANTONIO -- The question was raised after Game 5, but not by the media. It was raised by Spurs guard Tony Parker, who stared into the cameras after his team's 114-104 victory Sunday night and wondered how the Miami Heat were still leaving Danny Green open, five games into the finest long-range shooting display in NBA Finals history. Green made six more 3-pointers Sunday night, giving him a Finals-record 25 -- with at least one game left to play.

Said Parker: "I can't believe he's still open."

Nobody can. So when Heat stars LeBron James and Dwyane Wade met the media in tandem a few minutes later, Parker's confusion was thrown at the two players most responsible for defending Danny Green.

Why is Danny Green so open?

The reporter's actual question was longer than that, starting with the observation that Heat coach Erik Spoelstra had opined that open looks for Danny Green "are just killing you guys." The question continued, with Parker's confusion mentioned, and now LeBron was irritated. He spent most of his time behind the podium Sunday night leaning over, into the microphone, which allowed him to stare at the stat sheet on the table. But when the subject of Danny Green was broached, LeBron leaned back in disgust. He took a swig from his bottle of Sprite and looked into the distance while Wade tried to make sense of it. Which he couldn't.

Why is Danny Green so open?

Nobody seems to know, but the topic irritates LeBron and it angers Spoelstra, who skipped his usual see-the-sunny-side trope and showed actual fury when discussing his team's defense.

"They were just picking one guy out at a time and going mano y mano," Spoelstra said. "Basically everybody on their team was taking turns off the dribble, getting by us and breaking down our defense."

Green was open and Manu Ginobili rediscovered himself and Tony Parker carved up the Heat on a hamstring he says could tear at any moment. The Spurs shot 60 percent from the floor and scored 114 points, and Chris Bosh had the best explanation why:

"I think it's pretty obvious," he said. "We didn't give the same defensive effort that we had in Game 4."

So this is where the Miami Heat are, as they pursue a second consecutive NBA title: They are a team that can't be bothered to play their hardest in Game 5 of an NBA Finals that is tied at two games apiece. They can't be bothered to find red-hot Danny Green behind the 3-point arc or stay in front of hobbled Tony Parker or block out undersized Kawhi Leonard or even play hard at all times.

What is the answer? I have no idea, but I think I know the question. This is a question of leadership, one that starts at the top, and I'm not talking about Pat Riley or Erik Spoelstra. I'm talking about LeBron James, and also about Dwyane Wade, because they run this franchise. They set the tone.

And the tone they set Sunday was one of inconsistent effort, flashes of individual brilliance undermined by petulant indifference, selfishness and ego. Examples? I have examples.

There was the play early in the second quarter when LeBron drove the lane and tried a shot in traffic and missed it. He thought he was fouled, and he complained, and then he kept complaining. He was hopping and spinning and the ball was going the other way, ending in a transition bucket for the Spurs. San Antonio led by 12, then 14, then 17. LeBron wanted that foul called. He wanted those free throws.

There was the play early in the fourth quarter when Wade attacked the rim and missed a layup. Wade has been on his best behavior for the NBA Finals, not flopping or playing dirty or doing any of the unbecoming stuff he has been known to do, but this was the old D-Wade. He missed the shot and came to a dead stop when he realized the official wasn't blowing his whistle. The Spurs were going the other way, but it was more important to Wade -- in the fourth quarter of Game 5 of the NBA Finals -- to demonstrate his disappointment with the quality of NBA officiating.

A few seconds later Kawhi Leonard had the ball in the corner. Wade was supposed to be defending him, but he was the last player down the court. He was too late. Leonard hit a 3-pointer to make it 92-75.

The Heat didn't fold. Give them -- well, give Ray Allen -- credit for that. Allen scored in bunches, clumps of two, three, even four points at a time, and his explosion -- he scored 15 points in the fourth quarter -- put the Heat within striking range. It was 109-101 with 1:37 left, not a good place to be but not a hopeless place to be, either, when Tony Parker beat Wade to the rim for a bucket. It was 111-101.

And then came the moment that should define LeBron James' leadership.

James drove, missed a shot, and wanted the foul. He didn't get it. He was under the rim, and he stayed under the rim in disbelief while the Spurs went the other way. By the time Danny Green was hitting a 3-pointer, LeBron was still 75 feet away. The Heat called timeout. LeBron was the last to reach the huddle, seeing how he was still on the offensive side of the floor.

Why is Danny Green so open?

Maybe because the two players defending him are too busy complaining to officials to play defense. It's just Game 5 of the NBA Finals.

Game 6 is Tuesday in Miami. LeBron was asked Sunday night about Game 5, and how it looked a lot like Game 3 -- a game when the Heat were so bad, Spoelstra said he was "disgusted" and "embarrassed" -- and what he would do to make sure the Heat didn't repeat this performance Tuesday.

"Me being one of the leaders of this team," he said, "I do put a lot of pressure on myself to force a Game 7."

When all the talking was finished Sunday and it was time head to the airport, LeBron James slipped on some sunglasses and walked through the dimly lit halls of the AT&T Center and out into the night. His team was one game away from elimination, but he was looking good.

And a leader has to look his best.

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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