LeBron James won't abandon game plan for his own sake
JUN 07, 2013 5:32p ET
MIAMI — LeBron James is carrying the weight of an entire franchise on his back, but nobody seems to care if he’s getting tired.
Not even those on his team.
A weary James asked to take a breather for the first three minutes of the fourth quarter in Thursday’s Game 1 of the NBA Finals. When he came back into the game, he couldn’t save the Miami Heat, and they lost to the San Antonio Spurs 92-88.
James has been toting around the Heat all season with his all-around game and it’s been even more taxing during the playoffs when too many teammates haven’t shown up too often.
Nobody else on the Heat is doing much rebounding, so the small forward had to grab 18 in Game 1. That can take its toll.
“It is tough,’’ James admitted Friday before Miami practiced in preparation for Sunday’s Game 2 at AmericanAirlines Arena. “But it is what it is. I put myself in a position to try to do everything for this team, a little bit of everything, and put myself in a position to win. It’s very challenging mentally, physically. But you have to figure out a way to just have will at this point of the season. There’s not too many days left. There’s no room for excuses.’’
What’s going on here? One day James asks for a rest in the fourth quarter and the next day he admits it can be difficult performing so many tasks? Is he suddenly going human on us?
His teammates don’t seem to worry about that happening.
“He’s the best athlete in the world. Nobody’s tired,’’ center Chris Bosh shrugged when asked if James was getting fatigued.
“It it takes him 40-plus minutes and grabbing 18 rebounds, that’s what it takes,’’ forward Udonis Haslem said of James, who logged 42 minutes. “We all have different roles on different nights, but his role is everything. … We depend on him to do everything. Unfortunately, if him having to get 18 rebounds did fatigue him, then hopefully we got two days to rest him up and get him back out there on Sunday.’’
Yes, two days off should helpful for James. But he still experienced fatigue Thursday after having two days off following Monday’s Game 7 East finals win over Indiana.
What’s going to happen starting Sunday when the teams play three games in five nights? If James has to continue to carry an even heavier load, that might not be good news for the Heat.
Guard Dwyane Wade hasn’t been himself this postseason due to an extremely painful bone bruise on his right knee. Bosh often has been lackluster while hanging out mostly on the perimeter. He’s averaged a ridiculous 4.4 rebounds over his past eight games, meaning somebody on the Heat (calling Mr. James) has to get some boards.
With 18 points and 10 assists, James had a triple-double in Game 1. Still, his point total, the lowest of these playoffs and nearly nine below his seasonal average, raised some eyebrows.
After all, the former NBA scoring champion with the Cavaliers had said after a Game 5 win over Indiana he went back to his “Cleveland days’’ of being more aggressive offensively when the Heat really needed a win. Seems James could have gone back to those Lake Erie nights in the fourth quarter of Game 1 when the Spurs were taking control of the game.
With Miami trailing 90-86 and desperately needing a bucket with just over a minute remaining, James passed to Bosh at the 3-point line. Yes, Bosh was wide open. But he clanged the shot just like the other three 3-pointers he took on the night.
“I had some more opportunities where I could have maybe been a little more aggressive or looked for my shot,’’ James said. “But I don’t want to take away from any plays I made (Thursday). I was able to still find my guys for some shots. We missed some shots …. My guys are open. I’ve got this far with them. I’m not going to just abandon what I’ve been doing all year to help us get to this point.’’
James eventually might have to after a game in which the Heat shot 8 of 25 from 3-point range. While many Miami shooters have been uneven lately, forward Shane Battier has been an outright disaster. After leading all NBA players with 42 3-pointers made in last year’s playoffs, he’s 14 of 64 for 21.9 percent this postseason.
But even if James does become more assertive offensively, one wonders if he’ll be too tired to also do all those other his team counts on him to do. Now, he might be called upon chase around Spurs guard Tony Parker for more than the 3 ½ minutes he did to close Game 1. Parker had 21 points and outscored James 10-6 in the fourth quarter.
When James is on offense, the Spurs’ plan is simple. They want to make him work for everything.
“Every game we know he’s going to come out real aggressive, especially this coming game and be aggressive to score,’’ said forward Tim Duncan, whose Spurs are using Kawhi Leonard on James with plenty of help. “But we’re going to try to make it as difficult as possible, show as many bodies as possible and make his plays so he doesn’t rack up the ones going right to the basket and try to get the easy stuff.’’
Nothing was easy in Game 1 for James, a four-time MVP. He was expected to do everything and not get tired.
It’s no wonder Duncan, a mere two-time MVP, said before the series, “I’m definitely glad I don’t have that kind of pressure on me. Absolutely.’’
Chris Tomasson can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @christomasson.