Despite criticism LeBron James has not been producing late in the NBA Finals, the Miami Heat superstar has been playing at a remarkably high level — particularly on defense, an often overshadowed part of his game, The Wall Street Journal reported Monday.
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After Sunday’s 88-86 win in Game 3 against the Dallas Mavericks, Gregg Doyel of CBSSports.com put this blunt question to him: "LeBron, three games in a row for you, fourth quarter, not much. That’s the moment superstars become superstars. Seems like you’re almost shrinking from it. What’s going on?"
"I think you’re concentrating on one side of the floor," James replied. "All you’re looking at is the stat sheet. Honestly, I’m a two-way player. Since (Dwyane) Wade had it going, we allow him to handle the ball, bring it on offensively. You should watch the film again and see what I did defensively."
In examining the numbers it is clear to see how dominant he has been on that other side of the floor this postseason.
Opponents have shot 58 of 163 (35.6 percent) against him, according to Synergy Sports — and these are playoff teams. Whether shooters are spotting up (39.4 percent), working in isolations (33.3 percent) or handling the ball in pick-and-rolls (29.6 percent), James has defended them equally well. And this does not even take into account the shots players have passed up when they see his 6ft 8in (2.03m), 250-pound (113kg) frame barreling toward them. He has seven steals in the finals. None of the Mavericks has more than three.
The Mavericks are shooting 42 percent for the series, after shooting 47.5 percent in the regular season and 46.3 percent in the first three playoff rounds. Kidd, the team’s point guard, assessed the Heat’s extraordinary ability to help and recover on passes from the post to the perimeter: "If you have a window, they close it extremely fast."
That effort has been keyed by James, who has the size and strength to bump with power forwards and the speed to put the clamps on point guards. Nobody else in the NBA has that sort of versatility, said Will Perdue, a former center who won four titles with the Chicago Bulls and San Antonio Spurs.
But the problem with James, Perdue said, is that he makes it all look too easy.
"There are certain guys you watch, and it’s like, ‘Man, that guy is busting his butt,’" Perdue said. "But you watch LeBron, and it’s almost like he’s floating out there. It’s effortless. Unfortunately, he gets labeled as, ‘Well, he’s not putting his heart and soul on the line.’ I’m not so sure about that."