What a familiar position for LeBron James to be in.
A seemingly immaculate statline in the form of 36 points (14-of-20 overall, 3-of-7 from deep), 8 rebounds, 3 assists and 3 steals, moot and thrown out because of two turnovers in the final minute on crucial possessions that could have had the Miami Heat up 2-0 in the series, rather than it 1-1 with two games awaiting in Indiana.
LeBron was the only reason why Miami even stood a chance against the Pacers in their 97-93 loss. For a second consecutive game, it was LeBron doing everything he could on both ends of the floor, facilitating the offense and defending the likes of Paul George and the larger David West on the other end.
His two turnovers are, naturally, the topic of every piece featuring panic in the streets of Miami because the Heat did something they’re not expected to do: lose a playoff game.
Mostly, however, it’s because it was LeBron James committing those turnovers. It just wouldn’t be a popular narrative to add to the fire if it was Mario Chalmers or Dwyane Wade throwing the ball away like James did on those two plays.
As we have done so often throughout his career, we ignore the first 47 minutes and pay our closest attention to the final 60 seconds. In James’ case, 44 of the 45 minutes, 17 seconds he played mean little compared to his final minute of action that featured him essentially throwing the game away. Twice.
Unlike Game 1, the Heat’s outcome is going to fall on LeBron, not the defensive system of Frank Vogel and excellent anticipation by David West, who deflected both wayward passes to force the turnovers.
Haven’t we heard this story before? It’s the familiar one we heard for seven years in Cleveland, especially in those final three years that featured James and the Cavaliers falling to who were thought to be inferior opponents in the form of teams such as the Boston Celtics and the Orlando Magic.
The losses were pinned on LeBron, despite averaging 37 points and 14 rebounds against Orlando and recording an astounding 27 points, 19 rebounds and 10 assists in a Game 6 loss to Boston that ended the series.
That was the game, and the series, LeBron supposedly quit in. If 19 rebounds doesn’t spell out no effort, I don’t know what will.
LeBron has recorded some of the worst great statlines in NBA postseason history, with last night’s performance in Game 2 being the newest addition. He’s going to keep being blamed for these losses because he’s performed feats that have made every NBA fan wonder at one time, ” How does he lose games when he knows how good he can be?”
Nobody is saying it, but LeBron was gassed last night. He has played in at least 43 minutes in the past five games and had just played 46 minutes, 33 seconds in Game 1.
As stated before, James is leading an offense on one end and defending the opponent’s best player on the other. At some point, he’s going to require a form of assistance on one of those ends.
He got none of that in Game 2. Indiana, a team that ranked 26th in the regular season in field-goal percentage, shot 50 percent, had all five starters score in double-digits and shot 42 percent on 12 three-point attempts.
If Indiana had a respectable bench, they’d truly look like a complete team. At the moment, though, the harrowing quartet of D.J. Augustin, Sam Young, Ian Mahinmi and Tyler Hansbrough is doing just as much, possibly more, than Ray Allen, Shane Battier, Chris Andersen and Norris Cole.
And that’s exactly where the problem lies. LeBron isn’t getting any help from the players whose sole purpose on the team is to take attention away from James and make life easier.
Andersen, who was 2-of-2 last night and is now a perfect 9-of-9 in the series, has been quality when it comes to cutting to the basket on LeBron’s penetration. Both games this series he has led the Heat bench in scoring.
That’s the current state of the Miami Heat supporting cast. The guy who was signed in the middle of the season and is raking in a veteran’s minimum contract has been the most effective player off a Heat bench that features two esteemed three-point shooters and a fast-pace, second-year guard.
Shane Battier and Ray Allen, combining for 2-of-8 shooting overall and 0-of-4 three-point shooting last night, are a combined 1-of-12 from beyond the arc in the first two games of the series. They shot 43 and 42 percent, respectively, in the regular season and they have combined to make one three-pointer the first two games.
Thus far, Allen is converting 35 percent of his 4.6 attempts per and Battier is making 23 percent of his 4.7 attempts. To continue adding insult to injury, Mario Chalmers, a 40 percent three-point shooter in the regular season, is making 28 percent of his 2.3 attempts per.
The Heat coaching staff was to the point of replacing Battier and Allen with Mike Miller and Joel Anthony. And yet, Mike Miller was able to convert more three-pointers in his three minutes, 13 seconds of game-time than Chalmers was able to convert in 29 minutes, Allen in 21 minutes and Battier in 14.
The Miller three hardly looked any different than the opportunities the trio of shooters(?) have been receiving. LeBron penetrated, passed it to Miller, and Mike drained it, even with a little pressure on him in the form of a defender flying at him.
Miami missed several opportunities to pull away because of their three-point threats, none possibly bigger than the wide-open, transition three-pointer in the corner that was bricked by Chalmers in a tie game with 2:11 left in the fourth.
LeBron didn’t even bother going for the rebound. He dejectedly hung his head and stood motionless, questioning how so many shooters can miss the good looks that he and Dwyane Wade are constantly setting up for them.
David West made a jumper on the other end to give Indiana a two-point lead. LeBron’s jumper with 3:32 left in the fourth was actually Miami’s final field-goal of the game.
A few minutes before at a time where Miami led by one, Allen had the chance to answer a Lance Stephenson three-pointer with a great look that is usually never seen against a perimeter defense as good as Indiana’s.
Clang. Rinse and repeat. Roy Hibbert hits a layup on the other end to give Indiana the lead.
Collective groans echoed throughout the American Airlines Arena after every wide-open miss from Battier, Allen and Chalmers, as fans begin to contemplate if they could shoot just as well as either of those three.
They’d have a case last night. I, as well as the 20,000 disappointed fans last night, made just as many shots from the perimeter as Chalmers, Allen and Battier did. Miami won’t win many games if that stat makes an appearance.
Miami made seven three-pointers last night, with five combined from LeBron James and Chris Bosh. On nearly two attempts from beyond the arc per game, Bosh is shooting 43 percent and is Miami’s best three-point shooter this postseason, with the exception of James Jones’ 100 percent shooting on one attempt.
Is this what we imagined when signing Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis this offseason, Shane Battier in 2011 and Mike Miller in 2010? That it would be Miami’s 6’11” center having to bail the team out from the perimeter?
Bosh’s role is minimized enough as it is. Having him jack up five three-pointers like he did last night is playing right into Indiana’s plan of having any member of Miami’s ‘Big Three’ shoot as far away from the basket as possible, which was also accomplished with James taking seven of his 20 field-goal attempts from beyond the arc.
But at least LeBron is making his shots. At least he’s contributing something. Miami is getting next to nothing, especially on offense, from Miami’s supposed three best shooters and it’s allowing Roy Hibbert and David West to clog the paint without any hesitation.
Also, as long as Miami keeps throwing out Udonis Haslem, who finished with 0 points on one shot, three rebounds and four fouls in 14 minutes, the Pacers are going to continue packing the paint and making life as difficult as possible for LeBron and Dwyane.
You can read this article on Dwyane Wade’s performance throughout this year’s postseason. All I’ll leave you with is the fact that George Hill outscored Wade last night and did so taking six fewer shots.
Something has to give, though, right? Shane Battier and Ray Allen can’t continue shooting this poorly. They are too good of shooters and it’s certainly not the bright lights of the platform they are on that’s getting to them. They’re simply in an extended slump and missing shots they’ll bury 99-out-of-100 times in practice.
The law of averages will pan out, you know all about it if you look at Battier’s postseason numbers last year, and it’s going to result in a huge upswing for Miami’s offense if they can get just one of their shooters to start hitting their shots.
Also, throwing in a little Mike Miller and possibly taking some minutes away from Norris Cole (1-of-6 in 19 minutes last night) would not hurt. Miami has an arsenal of shooters on the bench for situations such as this when the primary guys aren’t hitting.
I’m not saying to start giving heavy minutes to guys like Miller and Rashard Lewis, but would it really hurt at this point? Does Battier’s defense mean that much when Indiana is still shooting 50 percent overall and 42 percent from beyond the arc?
Does Haslem’s grittiness play a role when Hibbert and West are stealing rebounds from him for easy put-backs? By the way, Hibbert has 13 offensive rebounds in the first two games of this series while Chris Bosh and Udonis Haslem have combined for 17 boards overall.
He has a size advantage, yes, but the Heat have a speed advantage and there shouldn’t be an excuse for Miami not to establish Bosh and attempt to get Hibbert into foul trouble.
Instead, Miami forces the issue with their wing players and get little to nothing out of it.
It takes one win in Indiana for the series to shift back in Miami’s favor. It’s extremely manageable as Miami did it twice in last year’s postseason; a huge win in Game 4 that staved off a possible 3-1 series deficit and the series-clincher in Game 6.
Until then, however, it’s extra time in the gym for the team who cannot bury anything outside of ten feet. That includes free throws, where Miami has shot below 70 percent in both games this series.
I’m going to stop writing these stats before I give myself an aneurysm. They are simply too frustrating, especially 18-of-26 free throw shooting (2-of-4 from Allen and 3-of-5 from Bosh, Miami’s best shooters) in a four-point loss.
This is going to be an annoying weekend.