LeBron James’ greatness is never in question. His superiority and all-around basketball gangster has become such a given that at times, it seems his teammates are just faceless pictures hanging on a background wall at a King James priceless art show.
The concept that it takes an entire squad to win a championship was severely tested last season, when Miami’s “Big Three” won a championship with little help from one of the NBA’s worst benches. In fact, Chris Bosh played sparingly during last year’s championship run, and even that wasn’t enough to derail the inevitable Heat coronation.
GM Pat Riley has been praised all season for adding better support pieces such as sharpshooter Ray Allen and high-energy beast Chris “Birdman” Anderson. These additions plus the maturation of Miami’s young guards had pundits predicting an even easier road to glory this season.
The way Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals ended didn’t shock anyone. The Pacers brawled like young Mike Tyson before Cus D’ Amato died, but in the end LeBron played the role of Rocky Marciano and floored the Pacers with a last second lay-up across the chin.
It’s become commonplace for everyone—even the refs—to assume that as long as LBJ is on the floor a Miami victory is money in the bag.
Who can blame them?
Miami has been balling like UCLA under Wooden, winning 46 of 49 games, before Friday night’s 97-93 loss to Indiana in what is becoming a classic ECF series.
When the final buzzer sounded and LBJ had two turnovers down the stretch, one with about 40 seconds left and the other with 8.3 seconds left in the game, the crowd was shocked.
Despite the fact that D Wade is still looking about 80%, Allen is experiencing one of the worst playoff shooting slumps of his career, Chris Bosh is playing like a flickering night light and Indiana is having its way with Miami in the post—LBJ has been a one-man wrecking crew.
The fans love it. The NBA craves it, but Miami may end up regretting it. James had a dope 47 minutes, but when he had to go back in the booth to change into his late-game uniform, nobody was there to pick up the slack.
The game made some cats flashback to LeBron’s “Me, Myself and I” Cleveland days. He was slicing and dicing and dishing and defending. The only problem was everybody else was doing their best frozen statue imitation.
The “team” concept that Erik Spoelstra speaks of so frequently was lost. LeBron was put in the position he tried so desperately to abandon when he left Cleveland to play with a more talented cast of ballers.
Somewhere Dan Gilbert is smiling.
Meanwhile, TNT analysts Kenny Smith and Charles Barkley were frowning upon this Miami team that showed it can lose to an opponent bringing five to seven “bout’ it” soldiers to war.
Playing one on five has never benefitted LBJ. The element of surprise is part of his game and when he’s the only option, sometimes the magic just isn’t there. After the game Smith said he hasn’t seen “ LeBron James (this mistake-prone at the end of a crucial game) in two or three years.” And Barkley countered, “When you are carrying four guys on your back (what do you expect)?”
There’s not a soul that doesn’t expect Miami’s veteran-laden bench to step up in future games. Expect LBJ to holla at his boys about their heart and desire, because if he wanted to play H.O.R.S.E. with himself, he could’ve stayed in Cleveland.