By Chris Murray
For the Chris Murray Report
If you’re reading this particular post-mortem NBA Finals column to see if I am going to j
oin the LeBron James lynch mob and to call him a selfish choker, you’re sadly mistaken. At the same time, I am not here to praise or defend him either.
Lost in all the LeBron bashing was the fact that the Dallas Mavericks, led by crafty veterans like series MVP Dirk Nowitzki and veteran point guard Jason Kidd, simply outplayed the Miami Heat with all their superstars. They moved the ball around and methodically and broke down the Heat’s defensive schemes. DeShawn Stevenson and Shawn Marion did an outstanding job slowing James down and making him a non-factor in the fourth quarter, something that the Chicago Bulls and the Boston Celtics failed to do.
And yes players like Nowitzki, Kidd and Jason Terry came up with the big buckets when the game was on the line, especially in the pivotal Game Five when the Mavericks took the lead for good after shutting the Heat down for most of the fourth quarter.
Now in that last paragraph I mentioned something about the world champion Mavericks having a veteran point guard. That was something the Miami Heat didn’t have and that deficiency reared its ugly head against them, especially in the fourth quarter where they had no clue how to run a half-court offense.
In Game Two, when Miami had a 15-point lead in the fourth quarter, the Mavericks were able to make their run because their defense was able to double down on whoever had the ball and force them to take jump shots. Their packed-in zone was able to keep James and Dwayne Wade out on the perimeter. No one on the Heat could figure out how to break down the Dallas defense.
Now, if Miami had a Chris Paul or Rajon Rondo, guys who know how to penetrate and find open men, I think that James, Wade and even Chris Bosh might have found some open lanes to take the ball to the basket. As much as folks say that James is unselfish and likes to get others involved, he is no true point guard. He’s no Magic Johnson. His strong suit is using his physical prowess to get to the basket.
Inexplicably, that was something that James failed to do in the fourth quarter in the final three games of the series. More on that in a moment.
The Heat seemed to be out of sync in the fourth quarter and had no one out there to calm them down when Dallas turned things up a notch on the defensive side. A good point guard figures out when and where to distribute the ball and is also a threat to score. He has the good sense to recognize the holes in the defense and find that open man.
In Game Four, the Heat committed six turnovers in a game they led by 11 to start the quarter. They were 5-of-15 from the field and missed 10 of their last 13 shots. Miami looked lost on offense. James did not score in the quarter. In Game Five, the Heat scored just three points in the final 3:23. It was a poor job of execution in the half-court game.
What you got from the Miami Heat, especially in their last three losses, was a collection of superstars that resembled a ship without a navigator or a captain. No one outside of Wade wanted to take ownership of the offense down the stretch when the games were on the line. For next year, general manager Pat Riley and head coach Erik Spoelstra need to find a point guard. They need to have New Orleans’ Hornet Chris Paul’s agent on speed dial.
All of this brings us back to “King” James, who now has a whole host of unflattering nicknames that decorum prohibits from listing here. His performance or lack thereof in the fourth quarter in the final three games defies logical explanation.
James gave his detractors all the ammunition they needed in the final three games of the series. For the entire six-game series, he scored a combined 18 points in the fourth quarter. This was after the previous two series in which he dominated both the Celtics and the Bulls in devastating fashion in the final stanza.
I’m not going to say that James is a fourth-quarter choke artist in the playoffs because there’s plenty of evidence from his past that says he has the ability to carry a team over the top. But his last two postseason experiences have been a mystery wrapped up in an enigma within a bizarre riddle.
The good news for James is that it’s up to him to remove the not entirely justified stigma that he can’t win the big one. It’s there for the taking if he wants it.