Per the recommendation of LeBron James, I did watch the tape.* And it’s safe to say that while James played a subpar game, the notion that he went into some ineffable mental funk and “shrunk” from “the moment” is fairly overblown.
*OK, I was going to watch it anyway to update my scorekeeping, as Game 4′s live viewing took place at a rowdy bar of Mavs fans/Heat haters. Are there any neutral fans actually rooting for Miami?
By popular demand, here is the Back Picks box score for Game 4 of the 2011 NBA Finals (mouse over a category for details – Expected Value results on the right):
|MAVERICKS||Pos||DD||HN||FTO||Chrg||BB||MR||Opp 2||Opp 2pa||Opp 3||Opp 3pa||SF||OC||FD’s||Def||Off||Raw EV|
|HEAT||Pos||DD||HN||FTO||Chrg||BB||MR||Opp 2||Opp 2pa||Opp 3||Opp 3pa||SF||OC||FD’s||Def||Off||Raw EV|
Note that LeBron’s offensive game wasn’t horrible, and more importantly, his measures of aggression were extremely high. 13 Opportunities Created (OC) in 78 possessions is nothing to sneeze at, nor are the 5 fouls drawn. On two occasions, LeBron drew defenders off the ball by making sharp cuts to the basket. Both actions led to open Miami shots for scores.
James created many of those opportunities with crisp, sharp decisions when hit with a double team or trap off of pick and roll action. And we shouldn’t overlook the two fantastic second half passes he made to Wade, first on a lob and at then at the end of the game on a 75 foot Dan Marino special.
So no, he wasn’t disengaged or passive. He wasn’t in a funk or shrinking. Then again, he wasn’t traditionally aggressive for someone 5th all-time in scoring average in the postseason.
It was a passive aggressiveness, if you will. His decisions were sharp and quick, his excellent ball movement lead to good Miami looks, but he’s capable of more. Whether that’s fatigue or being too much of a facilitator, I don’t know. But it’s fair to ask a player of his skill to bull his way to the basket a few more times than he did, even if the results are shaky.
Keep this in mind though: LeBron James was the only one of these superstars who decreased their shooting attempts in his poor shooting games. It’s hard to really criticize a player for passivity on a 3-11 night when 6-22 is, literally, twice as bad. And really, on which of the possessions in the 4th quarter should James have forced a shot? It’s certainly better to drive into the paint and make the defense collapse, but James’ quick passes on traps up top still led to a bunch of good Miami shots.
The Real Disappearing Act
The offensive results slightly miss the point: His defense hasn’t impact the game in this series the way it has all year. For the second straight game, he was torched off the dribble in a key 4th quarter possession. To say this has been James’ worse defensive series in two years would be a massive understatement. Here are his defensive EV numbers for the last two years in the postseason:
|Playoff Series||LeBron’s Defensive EV|
|2011 vs. Chi||5.0|
|2010 vs. Bos||4.8|
|2010 vs. Chi||3.6|
|2011 vs. Bos||3.5|
|2011 vs. Phi||0.6|
|2011 vs. Dal||-3.6|
Granted, Shawn Marion isn’t going to bank in wild runners ever time he shoots on LeBron. I think.
Normally, James rotates incredibly well and guards bigs around the rim like he’s a certified rim protector. In this series, opponents are a shocking 16-23 against him (67.4%). He’s committed nine defensive errors, more than any other Heat player in the series. And perhaps no stat reflects his relative inactive around the hoop better than blocks: James has one rejection in four Finals games after 19 blocks in the previous ten games.
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