Blog Entry

NBA Finals: LeBron's teammates step in for him

Posted on: June 8, 2011 5:51 pm
Edited on: June 9, 2011 5:57 am
Posted by Matt Moore

DALLAS -- "Vanishing act." "Checked out." "Wilted." "Struggled."

"Choke job."

Miami players were having none of it on Wednesday at practice as they tried in vain to get the media off its bloodhunt following what many, including myself, would call "the worst game I've ever seen LeBron James play."

James was shut down, shut out, beaten out, beaten down, smothered, covered, grilled and flat-out annihilated against a defense from Dallas that was simply as committed as you can get to shutting down one player. From the man defense attacking his dribble and guiding him into help to the help defense pushing him out to the perimeter and forcing turnovers to the weakside rotations swatting at his dribble, James was simply put in lockdown. But his teammates were emphatic that James is unaffected by his struggles and that if you want to point a finger for his struggles, point it at them.

"I, myself, need some of the blame," Udonis Haslem said Wednesday afternoon. "He's finding guys for open shots. We've got to knock them down. If we knock them down, it's a different series possibly. Some of this criticism has to go to us, not just him. He's a great player. He's getting guys open shots. We've got to make them."

Haslem pointed to one particular shot he had that would have put the Heat up late that he missed baseline. Mike Miller, though, made it clear that the team isn't rattled by another late collapse.

"We're still standing."

Miller was emphatic about defending James' decision-making, calling him "the best player in the world for a reason."

"He sees things better than anyone. If that's what he sees, he's got to make the pass," Miller said.

Miller also wasn't worried about how his superstar would respond in a crucial Game 5 in yet another bounceback opportunity for the Heat. He says they're not surprised at the criticism of James, but the Heat are also not worried about it.

"That's how it always is. You lose, the world's coming to end. You win, you're the greatest. LeBron's fine. He's the best player in the world."

James himself simply chalked it up to being "mental." He said he has to be more aggressive, predictably, and talked about rhythm. He made it clear that if the double comes, he's going to keep sending the ball out to open teammates. That's the play to make, and he says he'll do it.

But is that really what should happen? At some point, James has to make them pay with his athleticism and scoring ability. To do that he's going to have to split the two defenders off the pick and roll. James has been rolling away and then trying to jump-pass, which resulted in a crucial turnover late in Game 4. Mario Chalmers told reporters that on the pick and roll the Heat have to stop "jumping and waiting for someone to pass to."

But lost in all the talk of dramatic ideas like "wilting" and "aggressiveness" was something that Coach Erik Spoelstra quietly slipped into his comments.

"The last thing would be that the ball has to move. And sometimes he can get involved from execution, other guys being aggressive, and he's off the ball and impacting in different ways. So we anticipate it will be different tomorrow night."

That's a very quiet way of indicating that James might not be the primary ball-handler as he was in Game 4 along with Wade. It's a pretty smart concept. They can't double him all the time if he doesn't have the ball all the time. With Wade being a good enough distributor, Chris Bosh passing well, and even Mario Chalmers playing well and making good decisions, that could be a huge adjustment for the Heat. And not just by capitalizing on James' extraordinary gifts off-ball in terms of athleticism and catch-and-shoot, but to avoid a serious problem that's developed for Miami. The clock.

When James runs point, as he often did in the fourth quarter of Game 4, the Mavericks have employed an unusual, if logical, strategy. They're putting a world of pressure on the ball. They have gone so far throughout this series as to toss a full-court press at James. A full-court press. In the NBA Finals. And it's worked. When James does reach half-court with the press broken, it's job done in just etching off a few seconds from the clock, the Mavs are bodying him, just bumping him slightly. Shawn Marion acknowledged that it's an effort the Mavs are deploying on James to get the clock run down. 

"It's not about (bodying him)," Marion said. "It's just about trying to take time off the clock. It's just trying to get a little advantage by getting them down in the clock running their sets." 

The result is the Heat trying to run sets with 14 seconds or less on the clock, sometimes less than 10. That leads to what Mike Miller called "9-1-1 plays," which lead to shot-clock violations and turnovers. Moving LeBron off-ball might improve that considerably.

In the end it will be on James, though. His teammates can defend him. His coaches can make adjustments. He can talk about his defensive efforts and making the right play. But James will have to dictate what direction his legacy goes in this series.


Since: Jun 8, 2011
Posted on: June 8, 2011 6:59 pm

NBA Finals: LeBron's teammates step in for him

The analysis of what is happening to James seems right on; although, there is one thing I can't understand about last night.  When James brought the ball up, the primary defender when he got over the half court line was usually about half a foot smaller than him.  I was seeing Jason Kidd or Jason Terry almost every posession.  Why in the world couldn't James simply jump shoot over them for easy baskets?  Why couldnt he drive on the slow Jason Kidd?  Even without jumping he could elevate over those two.  No, something was clearly wrong with James mental attitude last night. 

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