Against all odds seems to be a very fitting theme for what the Miami Heat are trying to do with elimination starting them straight in the face. LeBron James has another opportunity to carve his name on the NBA’s wall of immortality, although trying to change the direction in which this finals series is going might be the most difficult thing he has ever had to face.
In the press conference before the game, LeBron James spoke about previously impossible things. About improbable comebacks. About teams coming back from 2-0 down, like the Miami Heat in 2006, when Dwyane Wade was partnered up with Shaquille O’Neal. Like no team coming back from 1-3 down at all in the playoffs but at some point it started happening. He also referred to baseball and the Boston Red Sox, the message is clear.
LeBron James has an impressive 31.9 points average when facing elimination. That is the highest of all time among players with at least five such games – better than Michael Jordan and Wilt Chamberlain. But even a 32 or something similar kind of night from James isn’t going to be enough for the Heat in order to keep this series going a little while longer. It’s going to take something we’ve hardly seen from his teammates against the Spurs.
You can start going through each and every member of the Miami Heat and find someone who has been disappointing in one or more ways. James himself has been disappointing after the first two games, but this loss isn’t just on him. The Heat aren’t a team carried by just one player. They haven’t been that way for a long time, even though some of their most memorable wins as a group have come with James simply exploding. Game 4 in Indiana during the Eastern semifinals in 2012. Game 6 against the Boston Celtics in 2012. A lot of 2012 on that list. The Heat aren’t the same team anymore. Maybe James isn’t the same player as well.
The Heat are simply playing badly as a group, which turns it into James playing against the Spurs team on his own sometimes. That was the way it went during the third quarter as the Heat desperately crashed upon the walls, trying to get back into the game. James scored 19 points out of 21 for the Heat, but their defense simply couldn’t keep up with the way the Spurs have been moving the ball and freeing up shooters, resulting in the lead growing to 24 points.
The Heat problems begin with their offense. It’s slow, predictable and lazy. You might say the Spurs are doing everything right. Showing James only the side they’re willing to let him attack from. Forcing him to start plays from very far away, exhausting him as he tries to make his way to the basket. That their traps in the paint are perfectly timed. That Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green are simply too good to let things go by them, especially when the passing is this sloppy.
But if the Spurs are about flawless execution, then so can the Heat be. At least on paper that is. Dwyane Wade and James don’t have to be holding on to the ball 20-25 feet away from the basket while four other players shuffle without any plan in mind near the basket, hoping that from nowhere a screen appears and helps them free up for a shot. The passes don’t need to be this sloppy, weak or lazy. We’ve seen this team in this series do a much better job at executing the simple things, let alone the extraordinary by James.
Maybe the Heat have already given up, although judging from their talks to the media, they’re still confident that they can turn this thing around, or at least turn the ending of this series into a more respectable one. Right now the narrative suggests that the Miami Heat heading towards that cliff all championship teams reach, when it’s to decide if they should break up or give it another go in a slightly different constellation.
LeBron James isn’t that super player that will disregard how bad his teammates are playing and win on his own. Let me in on a little secret: Michael Jordan was never that good either, if you think about those around him. Kobe Bryant was never that good as well. There’s a myth that’s one big lie because it fits the story that James isn’t as good as those that came before him. If he’ll be part of a comeback the likes of which we’ve never ever seen, then he’ll enjoy another moment of shattering the deception.