When the Miami Heat were embarrassed by 36 points in Game 3 of the NBA Finals, James took all the blame and even lauded his teammates for playing great. Shortly after that 113-77 debacle of a Spurs’ victory ended Tuesday night, James insisted that he would do enough to change the way the Heat compete in Game 4.
And Wednesday, James’ tune was the same.
“I’m putting all the pressure on my chest, on my shoulders to come through for our team,” James said, virtually echoing what he had vowed the previous night. “That’s the way it is.”
That’s not necessarily the same game plan that Heat coach Erik Spoelstra would prefer, but by now, it’s just become assumed that when the stakes are highest, it’s all going to be on James anyway, whether that’s the actual reality or not. If the Heat win Game 4, odds are James will be credited as the reason why. If they lose Game 4 and go one loss away from elimination, then it’ll be widely considered as James’ failure.
“Look, we have great confidence from our guys and their ability to bounce back and respond in a big way,” Spoelstra said. “And that’s all our focus is the next 24 hours - how do we prepare ourselves to play our best game of the series tomorrow night. That’s the only thing that matters. LJ has proven himself enough in this league and on the biggest stage. He is going to ... he’ll be better.”
When the Heat arrived Wednesday for practice in San Antonio, after a particularly difficult-to-stomach film session to recap Game 3, James had his practice jersey slung over his head, letting the piece of mesh fabric sway down his back much in the way that a cape would.
Fitting. In Game 4, he might need a hero’s effort to save the Heat.
“We’re not worried about LeBron,” Heat guard Dwyane Wade said. “He’s going to find his way. He’s going to get in a groove. As teammates you try to figure out a way to get him an easy basket in a breakout, try to get it back to him, get a lay-up, so he can see the ball go in. As a scorer you need to see it go in. Besides that, we’re not concerned about him at all.”
Strangely, some of the Spurs sound as if they’re not concerned about James either.
Danny Green has had a phenomenal start to these finals, and James’ former Cleveland teammate raised a couple eyebrows after Game 3 when he said that while the Spurs were executing their plan against him as they would hope, the reigning and overall four-time NBA MVP was hurting his own cause as well.
“I’m just saying, we all know what he’s capable of doing,” Green said. “I don’t know what’s going on, but he’s not playing his best basketball right now. It’s not just us. We’re doing a decent job of making it tough for him, but I don’t know what’s going on. He’s not playing LeBron basketball. ... It could be a number of things. It could be stuff going on behind the scenes.”
When told of Green’s comments, James smiled.
“I’ll be better. I’ll be much better tomorrow night,” he said.
The 36-point loss matched the largest that James has endured in his career, and his minus-32 rating was the worst of his 899 previous games. He was 7 for 21 from the field <0x2014> his shooting has been subpar in every game so far in this series <0x2014> and did not get to the foul line, a byproduct of both the Spurs taking driving lanes away and James shooting the jumpers than San Antonio is daring him to try.
Spoelstra said the Heat would find ways on the film to clean up some of the many issues from Game 3. Wade had a far more succinct approach.
“As players I think we figured it out in the game,” Wade said. “We’re playing terrible. So the film session just brings it to light a little more. It’s not really much we can learn from that, from the standpoint of schemes, we just have to do what we do a lot better versus the team. So film session gives you an opportunity to ... in front of your teammates, in front of your coaches, to really own it up. Own up to it, and move on.”
And there was plenty for the Heat to own in that film session.
Starters Udonis Haslem and Mario Chalmers missed all seven of their shots and did not score. The Heat were outrebounded 52-36, 19-9 on the offensive end. They gave up a Finals-record 16 3-pointers on 32 attempts, and got blown out of a game where Tony Parker, Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili were really quite ordinary.
“There ain’t no explanation,” Haslem said. “There ain’t no excuses.”
The way James was talking on Wednesday, it’s all-or-nothing time for the Heat.
“It’s just something we’ve grown over the years, being able to bounce back in adverse situations,” James said. “And no matter the circumstances, this is going to be probably one of the toughest, because ... we’re going against a team with championship DNA and championship pedigree on the floor and a must-win. We’re going to be ready for it. We’re going to accept the challenge and see what happens.”