Monday, June 13, 2011
Game 6 Ramblings
I thought Dallas was done when a Dwyane Wade step-back corner three splashed through the net late in game two to put the Heat up 15 points. Miami looked so much stronger, so physically superior and Dallas so emotionally spent that a quick exit was the only logical outcome. The Maverick’s body language was less than desirable and their defense even worse. The magical run may have been coming to a close, and the evil empire in South Beach was inching closer to a triumphant first season of the experiment.
But none of that happened. I don’t know if Wade’s over-celebration in front of the Maverick’s bench lit a fire underneath Dallas—because really, what extra motivation do you need in the NBA Finals?—but from that point on the Mavericks did just enough to beat the Heat. They may not have crashed the boards harder, nor got to the line more, or executed the fast break more exquisitely, but they certainly knew how to close.
No one typified that more than Dirk Nowitzki, who when the game was on the line, was always, ALWAYS, the best player on the court. Even last night, with Dirk suffering through a morbid shooting affair, was cash money in the fourth quarter where he scored 10 of his 21 points. That’s quite an achievement to consistently be the finest player on the floor late in games, no matter the kind of night you're struggling through. And I’m sure LeBron James is envious.
Or maybe he’s not. Because we just don’t know LeBron anymore…he’s a mystery, an enigma.
Like disgruntled and disappointed parents we want him to realize his greatness and finally “get it”. Despite his vast array of accomplishments and awards, we know he can be better. We foolishly compare him to Jordan because that’s the gold standard, and to those who have followed LeBron we know he can meet it—or exceed it.
Last night—and this series—wasn’t about LBJ’s "clutchness" or his lack thereof. It wasn’t about his fear of the moment or his frightening pattern of poorly played playoff games, but rather his lack of consistency as an offensive player. In that respect, LeBron has a lot to learn, and Dirk Nowitzki is the perfect role model.
It was the perfect storm because when LeBron’s jumper isn’t falling, his game falls apart. And against the zone, where ball movement and accurate shooting are traditional foils, he was lost. Dallas played Miami’s fearsome offense exceedingly well. They went to the zone at the perfect times, just when Miami’s offense was heating up. They closed driving lanes, packed the paint, and forced Miami to beat them from the outside. LeBron James, unlike in rounds one through three, wasn’t capable of doing that. And therein lies his greatest failure.
I hate being the armchair psychologist, but I watched LeBron pass up shot after shot last night, and not even attempt to take the ball to the basket. I watched the entire Miami Heat team play hot potato with the basketball and watched with horror as James repeatedly dished to Juwan Howard in the paint rather than take it himself. Yes, I’m talking about that Juwan Howard, the 38 year-old Howard who can barely move. Believe me, I appreciate LeBron’s passing and his court vision, but blindly dishing to a 38-year old has-been in the most important game of your life?
His play in these Finals has been so utterly perplexing I don’t really know what else to say. What makes it so hard to fathom is how effortless James made basketball look against Chicago and Boston; how he almost mindlessly stroked three-pointers, nailed step-back jumpers and drove to the hoop with a pleasant ferocity. And best of all, he did it while under complete control. He managed to keep his teammates involved and deferred to Dwyane Wade at precisely the right times. How can he look so right one week, then oh so wrong the next?
Of course, there’s still hope for LeBron James. Remember when Jason Kidd couldn’t make a three-pointer to save his life, or Dirk Nowitzki couldn’t close? LeBron still has time to improve his shot, develop a post-game, and create a go-to move. But will he devote the time…put the work in? Sometimes, we see the LeBron James we think we know, but most of the time it’s the one full of petty excuses and self-appreciation. We saw it last night, and we saw it after game five. No matter the magnitude of the failure LeBron is always LeBron—the same dude who begins text messages with, “Yo, it’s King James” and had the phrase “Chosen One” tattooed across his back. It’s been eight years, and the humanity and humble self-awareness hasn’t happened yet. Neither has the offensive improvement. Let’s hope this is the wake-up call he desperately needed.
But I digress, we’ll have a whole summer (and possibly much, much longer) to wonder and contemplate and dissect and analyze every aspect of this Heat and LeBron James failure. For now, we should focus on the Dallas Mavericks and their improbable run to the NBA Finals. I feel like I owe them an apology, because I picked against them EVERY SINGLE SERIES leading up to the Finals. My first mistake was believing Dirk Nowitzki can be stopped, because obviously he can’t. You can’t shut him down; you can only hope to contain him. My second mistake was doubting the Nowitzki-Barea pick-and-roll, which is somehow a legitimately deadly NBA play. My third mistake was underplaying the massive impact Tyson Chandler had on the Maverick’s defense, his ability to crash the boards, and the innate toughness he brings to the paint. Just like in Boston, where Kendrick Perkins was a terrifying paint presence, Chandler makes everyone think twice about venturing within arm’s length of the basket.
So there you go, some opinions on game six, where a champion was crowned. Thoughts are still swirling through my head, and I really don’t know what, or how to feel about LeBron James anymore. I want to defend the guy because of the torrent of lame and uneducated criticism he takes, but it’s becoming incredibly, incredibly hard to do so. Just like it must have been difficult to be a defendant in the O.J Simpson trial, it’s becoming harder and harder every passing day to be a LeBron James apologist.
And sometimes I wonder, did we create a monster?
Posted by Richard Owens at 3:01 PM