LeBron James has the ability to shift a narrative in an instant—and that's not always a good thing.
As the game’s greatest player, there is constant criticism any time the Miami Heat leader isn’t superhuman. In Game 3, James was a woeful version of himself—an apprehensive interpretation of the league’s Most Valuable Player that had been so dominant until that point.
That weakened performance brought on a sudden faithlessness in James; a sentiment he quickly erased in a Game 4 reawakening on Thursday when he tallied 33 points, 11 rebounds and four assists in Miami’s 109-93 victory against the San Antonio Spurs.
James was once again active defensively, adding two blocks and two steals. There was never any doubt he was capable, but why can't LeBron show this level of effort in every game of the finals?
The Heat, and James in this recent example, have developed a habit of not swinging heavy punches until they’ve been hit. Miami has now won six in a row this postseason following a loss.
LeBron will always be victim to the expectations set on basketball legends—those that claim the game’s all-time greats should always be perfect. So when James comes out with questionable effort in Game 3, of course it was going to create negative buzz.
"It hurt," James said about Game 3, via Hoopsworld's Alex Kennedy. "I watched the film. It hurt watching it. I didn't like the way I was playing."
While he flipped the script that with a phenomenal effort in Game 4, here’s the problem: What happens if James reverts back to the same lack of urgency that he showed in Game 3? What if he becomes the player that doesn’t attack the basket, or spark a swarming Heat defense?
With the finals tied at 2-2, it becomes a best-of-three series now against the Spurs, and there isn’t time for another letdown.
James needs to be amazing. He needs to be a master of the hardwood both offensively and defensively. He must be aggressive attacking the hole while keeping the rhythm of his jump shot.
LeBron didn’t reach the free-throw line a single time in Game 3. In Game 4, he was still just 2-of-4. He averaged 7.0 free throws per game in his MVP campaign this season, and he has averaged 7.5 per game this postseason.
James needs to play with confident desperation; he must play as if his legacy is riding on every possession. Because if he does, he is unstoppable in a way that only he can be. And the truth is, a massive chunk of his legacy truly is riding on his performance in this series.
Sure, he threw that proverbial monkey off his back with last season’s title. But if the Heat lose two of their next three games, James suddenly becomes 1-of-4 in the NBA Finals, and his inability to win on the grandest stage revives his old career storyline.
It may not be fair, but nothing is when judging legends.