- Series Hub: Spurs-Heat
SAN ANTONIO – LeBron James ate the whole thing.
A Finals pasting unlike anything the Miami Heat has seen since its “Big Three” era began three years ago had the defending champions in full retreat Tuesday night at the AT&T Center. Thirty-six points overall — 113-77, in all its gory glory — but even worse when you recall that it was a six-point game at halftime. There was no bounce in this one for Miami; no lying in the weeds and stealing Game 3 the way San Antonio swiped Game 1.
The Spurs toyed with them over the final two quarters — at 63-33 they nearly lapped the Heat — and exposed several flaws-for-the-night in Miami’s defense, from its closeouts on perimeter shooters to inattentive rebounding and general effort. That’s the stuff that had coach Erik Spoelstra fried.
It didn’t matter. LeBron ate the whole thing anyway.
“I’ve got to just play better,” James said, facing a media horde the instant the visitors’ dressing room opened. “I can’t have a performance like that and expect to win. I’ve got to shoot the ball better. I’ve got to make better decisions, and I will get into the film and see ways that I can do that. I’m not putting blame on anybody. I’m owning everything that I did tonight.”
It was, at once, admirable and overkill. James definitely could have played better — he started out shooting 2-for-12 for the second straight Finals game, though Miami played through his frosty stuff Sunday. He wound up 7-for-21, had one offensive rebound, blocked no shots, logged five assists and is averaging 16.3 points so far in The Finals.
Oh, and he didn’t shoot even one free throw. The four-time MVP did something that hadn’t happened to him in the playoffs since 2007 and in a game — period — since 2009.
“I went a whole game without shooting a free throw, to show you where my game was tonight,” he said.
Still, when a team plays as feebly as the Heat did — San Antonio’s three “name” guys combined for just 25 points, riding Danny Green‘s and Gary Neal‘s career nights — the onus is on everyone. In fact, that might be why it’s spelled o-n-u-s.
Didn’t matter. James spelled it onme.
“I’m just missing shots,” he said. “They’re going under my pick-and-rolls. They’re daring me to shoot. Anytime I get to the paint they’re putting two bodies in front of me. Anytime I get into transition, they’re putting two bodies in front of me. They’re doing a good job. But also I have to be able to knock down shots.”
It isn’t a matter of settling for jump shots, James said. Anytime a defense lays off anyone the way San Antonio laid off his jumper Tuesday, that guy has to take them. And make them.
The Spurs’ sticking with James through screens turned Miami’s pick-and-roll into a lethal weapon in Game 2, opening up the Heat attack for Mario Chalmers and others. This time, San Antonio was nearly as brazen in daring James to shoot — he was 2-for-14 outside the paint, compared to 5-for-7 inside it — as it had been earlier in the series on Chris Bosh‘s ill-advised 3-pointers.
Not getting much defensive push-back on an aspect of one’s game can be rattling, James’ teammate Dwyane Wade said. “It takes away some of your aggressiveness at times, because you have the shot that you can make in your sleep,” he said. “And then it don’t go in.”
Wade knows. He was 6-for-7 in the paint, 1-for-8 from everywhere else.
San Antonio’s priority on keeping James out of the lane by using multiple defenders to get that done explained much of the Heat star’s struggle. But if you have that nagging feeling — the feeling that James in all his magnificence inspires more than any other player in the NBA — that he could have and should have been doing more, you’ve got company.
Green said pretty much the same thing.
“LeBron is not just us stopping-him,” the Spurs guard said. “He’s kind of stopped himself out there and we’re getting a little lucky.
“Obviously we’re making it tough for him. But you guys have seen him all year at his best, and how he can perform. He’s not doing that right now. I don’t know what it is. I’m hoping that it doesn’t come out.”
James essentially vowed afterward that it would. In Game 4 Thursday and thereafter.
Getting to the foul line will be step one. No, the referee crew of Danny Crawford, Jim Capers and Marc Davis will not be put on double-secret probation for not finding a shooting foul committed on James’ person during his 39 minutes on the floor. But it is rare, as noted above, and it’s a good barometer of his aggressiveness.
Said Green: “It’s shocking. I think that’s the reason he couldn’t get into his rhythm. He’s used to attacking the basket, getting to the line. And making free throws gets you into a rhythm as a scorer. I hope he continues to miss shots and everybody else continues to miss shots.”
Remember, though, there is no everybody else as far as James is concerned.
“I’ve got to be better. It’s that simple,” he said postgame for the third or fourth time in a span of six minutes. “If I’m better, we’re better. And I’ve got to be better. I’m putting everything on my chest, on my shoulders. I’ve got to be better. It’s that simple. My teammates are doing a good job, and I’m not doing my part.”
Thing is, he did not sound frustrated. Ploy or not, LeBron James ate the whole thing and seemed … resolute.
“When you get smashed like that in a playoff game or a Finals game, and you feel like you came up with a great game plan and nothing works, you’re frustrated about it,” he said. “That’s just the heat of the battle. Right now, I’m still sweating from the game. So I’m absolutely not happy. I’m very upset about the game.
“But like I said, there’s tomorrow. We will prepare. We will be better. And I will be better.”