Beyond the Boxscore
LeBron James just couldn't let it go. He needed to make his point, to show the world — and that one reporter who got under his skin so — that the way he played in Game 3 made perfect basketball sense.
So he threw away a basketball game, an NBA Finals game, the Miami Heat's best and perhaps last chance to put a stranglehold on this series.
Being right meant more to LeBron than being a winner. Much like it did to Kobe Bryant — another superstar that took too long to grow up — in that infamous 2006 No Shoot Game 7 against the Phoenix Suns.
Sure, James will never admit it. And no one else on the Heat will come right out and say it — though Dwyane Wade came close after Game 4. Looking like he's grown sick of the LeBron act, Wade talked about how you'd "like to think you left it all on floor" as a lost Tuesday night bleed into Wednesday morning for Miami. Wonder who hadn't left it all on the floor?
Maybe the guy sitting next to D-Wade in the press conference?
Dallas 86, Miami 83. LeBron's ego is killing the Heat (and no not the one tweeting).
On a night when a sinus sick, feverish Dirk Nowitzki clearly wasn't up to carrying the Mavericks for four quarters, on a night when the Heat took a nine-point lead in the fourth quarter, on a night when LeBron could have effectively ended the series by stepping on Dallas' throat ... he deferred. LeBron decided he wanted to win his way rather than win any way,
It's the difference between Nowitzki and LeBron at this point in their careers. It's also the difference between LeBron and Wade for that matter. And it just may be the fatal flaw that inexplicably dooms the Heat.
This series should be 3-1. It easily could have been a 4-0 Heat sweep. Instead, it's 2-2 and the Mavericks just won't stop fighting, crawling, finding any little way to help steal a game.
All because LeBron James wants to prove he has the better basketball mind. James didn't like the admittedly questionable criticism he received for "shrinking" in the fourth quarter of Game 3, a Heat win. So rather than pout and act out the way many expected he would, by hoisting up shot after shot and yanking the attention from Wade, he pouted by going even more extreme the other way.
The most talented player on the floor took only 11 shots, only one in the fourth quarter. He'd prove that the Heat could win without him scoring, shut that sportswriter up, no matter what it took. Only, it took him right into a series-altering loss.
By the time, James realized his team needed him, by the time he understood that Wade and Chris Bosh wouldn't be able to carry this fourth quarter, it was too late.
"I've got to do a better job of being more assertive offensively," James said afterwards. He wants us to believe he didn't realize that going into Game 4?
He'll never admit. He can't admit it. But it says here that the Miami Heat lost this game when LeBron got peeved by that Game 3 press conference.
Lost it because of a press conference? How sad would that be? How childish is this 26-year-old, eight-year NBA veteran?
Think it's crazy to suggest that LeBron let something so petty throw him off his game? Take a quick look at his history, at his pattern of decision making.
James actually made the right decision when he abandoned a Cleveland franchise that would never win. But he turned it into a joke by holding The Decision, that hour-long ESPN special that will still be one of the first things people remember about him after he's gone no matter how many titles he ends up winning. He walked off the court without shaking Dwight Howard's hand after being eliminated in the 2009 Eastern Conference Finals. He even ordered that the tape of a college basketball player summer camper dunking on him be confiscated.
This is a man who dramatically reacts to even the slightest perceived slight.
LeBron James did his best to play a convincing humble man these first two games in Dallas. He might have called the performance Denzel worthy himself — if he wasn't being so humble.
Those are the breaks of the game though. Sometimes, you can't even double slap yourself on the back. Even when you know you deserve it.
Welcome to the funniest game in the NBA Finals. LeBron's attempt to convince everyone that he's a selfless, team-first kind of guy. It's a bold play by the Warren Buffet buddy.
It's also absurd. And no one knows this better than LeBron's Miami Heat teammates and the coach he tried to jettison after that 9-8 start. They understand that the only thing standing between them and an NBA title is LeBron's ego.
Oh, the Heat would never be here without LeBron, the most complete player in basketball since Magic Johnson. He's the transcendent force powering this dynasty in the making.
Yet, now that Miami is so close to winning it all, LeBron's pride is the only thing that blocks the way. In a less guarded moment, James flashed that ego in indignation. When that reporter asked him about not doing more in the fourth quarter of these Finals games on Sunday night, of "shrinking", Mr. Decision shot back, "I think you're concentrating on one side of the floor."
LeBron might as well have dropped a "Do you know who I am?"
Now even Bosh — the fragile, cry-easy softie who Wade and LeBron spent much of this season yelling at — is calling out this false modest act. "(LeBron) struggled, point blank, period," Bosh said.
"Harmony is overrated," an NBA scout tells CultureMap, "when you've got that much talent. It won't matter."
Maybe not. But it certainly gives the Mavs some hope.
Depending on Hurbis' Hail
Four games into this series, it's still painfully obvious that the Mavericks are an immensely flawed team and that the Western Conference in whole is a shadow of what it used to be (which makes that "great" coaching job Rick Adelman supposedly pulled off with the Houston Rockets look even more suspect).
Dallas has one really good player on a roll in Nowitzki. Not close to one of the greatest of all time, certainly not in the Top 10, no matter how often Mavs coach Rick Carlisle tries to sell that like an amateur closer desperate for coffee. One really good player. Even on a night when he couldn't do it for 48 minutes, that player could still hit the biggest shot.
Everything else is a struggle for the Mavericks against a team as athletic, long and quick as Miami though.
Dallas only wins on miracles, on incredible comebacks, on Dirk playing Mr. Impossible.
"We'd certainly like to make it easier for him," Carlisle said.
No dice. The Mavs are the Jack Bauer of the NBA Finals. Only Bauer and 24's long been canceled.
"I don't think it's anything Dirk doesn't expect," Carlisle said of his lone star's burden.
Just because you expect a piano to fall on you doesn't make it any easier when it does.
This isn't about Dirk anymore though, not if you get past those knee-jerk comparisons to that overblown Michael Jordan flu game and find the real story. It's on LeBron and how much he messes up his team. Will he go full megalomaniac and complete the Heat's self destruction?
The scene at AT&T Plaza — the strip of restaurants, hotels, a TV station and site of a number of other TV remotes — outside of American Airlines Center spoke of a fan base that's found hope. People just lingered on the plaza for hours, even after ESPN's promotions crew stopped dancing on top of a giant white bus. On a Tuesday night.
Hey, when you're gifted a second and third life, you'd better party hard. One man's ego has leveled a series.