Which Version of LeBron James Must Show Up For Game 7 NBA Finals Win?

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Which Version of LeBron James Must Show Up For Game 7 NBA Finals Win?
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Fourth-quarter, Game 6 LeBron James. That—and more—is what the Miami Heat need for all of Game 7.

The NBA Finals have been home to many different versions of The Chosen One. Some of those have aided in the Heat's journey to Game 7; others have helped impede their pursuit of another title.

There was the now-infamous not-enough-of-a-triple-double in Game 1, the 7-of-21 and 8-of-22 shooting performances in Games 3 and 5 and the teetering, victory-clinching triple-double of Game 6. 

LeBron's (and the rest of the team's) inconsistencies have brought the Heat here, to a winner-take-all Game 7 against an ever-underrated San Antonio Spurs team. Miami's players can taste that second consecutive title. The fans who don't mind sticking around to watch the game can sense it. LeBron himself needs it, because he wants it.

Ensuring he gets it won't be a cakewalk. This entire series has comprised roller-coaster efforts, displays that won't come close to guaranteeing a Heat victory.

But the emergence of a hybrid LeBron would.

Miami needs the attacking adaptation of LeBron it had in the fourth quarter of Game 6, when he went 7-of-11 from the field. The Heat need the unparalleled defender who came out of the locker room for the second half.

They need all LeBron everything in Game 7.

 

Scoring

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
God mode. Not simply attack mode—God mode.

Describing LeBron's fourth-quarter showing in Game 6 as anything else doesn't do his exploits justice.

More than 42 percent of his shot attempts on Tuesday night came in the fourth (11), and he hit on 63.6 percent of them (seven). Before he was forced to jack up three desperation deep balls, he was a whopping 6-of-8 from the floor (75 percent).

Entering the fourth, he was a beggarly 3-of-12 from the field. Just as disturbing as the 25 percent clip is him attempting only 12 shots through three quarters and taking only three in the third. In an elimination game like the Heat are once again facing, he has to shoot and look to create his own offense more.

LeBron's fourth quarter shot chart from Game 6 (via NBA.com).
Like he did in the fourth.

When he didn't have the ball, he was moving with the sole purpose of getting it. Idleness was a thing of the past; off-ball movements were a means to an end. Everything he did on offense was done with the team in mind but laced with individual aggression.

Losing his headband didn't slow him down either; rather, it spurred him on. Without it, he was a plus-six on the floor compared to a minus-seven when he wore it. Make of that what you will.

Assaulting the paint, more so than the absence of his headband, is what fueled LeBron's late-game heroics in Game 6.

He scored 14 points in the paint between the fourth quarter and overtime. That's more interior points than he had notched for the entirety of any contest in the finals.

We get it, LeBron can shoot from the perimeter now, but he's connecting on only 29.2 percent of his treys during the finals. Hoisting up jumpers hasn't suited him or the Heat.

Taking his offense down low also creates free-throw opportunities. The 12 he attempted in Game 6 were a series high, and the eight he attempted in the second half alone were more than he saw in four of the first five games.

So keep attacking, LeBron. The Heat are better when you do.

 

Goodbye, Dwyane Wade; Hello, Mario Chalmers

Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sport
To be clear, the Heat still need Dwyane Wade. Until further notice, he's a superstar.

Also until further notice, he can no longer be LeBron's primary pick-and-roll partner.

For James to be at his best in Game 7, he needs to choose his complements wisely. And in truth, Mario Chalmers may be his most effective option on screening plays.

Wade's shot selection was regrettable in Game 6 (6-of-15). He attempted just two shots through the fourth quarter and overtime, both of which he missed. 

Dropping 14 points in 37 minutes isn't indicative of the Wade we once knew. For his playoff career, he's scored 14 or fewer points in 37 or more minutes of action just eight times, with three of those coming during the Heat's current playoff campaign.

Yuck. And yuck again.

Still nursing a sore knee, Wade's struggles are understandable to a point. They're also something the Heat can't ignore, something LeBron can't overlook.

Together, LeBron and Wade form one of the most feared pick-and-roll duos in the NBA. However, at the moment, they don't. Wade's spotty penetration has hindered their execution.

Look no further than this particular side pick-and-roll set the tandem ran in Game 4:

While Wade absorbs the contact and scores, this is exactly what you don't want to see—him falling to the floor.

Wade can't be expected to fall to the ground as frequently at this point. Game 6 saw some scary moments early on when we weren't sure if he would get up or even return. And remember, the Heat need him beyond Game 7, beyond this championship run.

Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sport
Time for LeBron and Rio to get their interior pick-and-rolls on.
Enter Mario Chalmers.

Miami's point man has eclipsed the 19-point mark twice this series—that's one more than Chris Bosh and the same number as Wade—including a 20-point showcase in Game 6. He actually led the Heat in scoring entering the fourth quarter.

Really, LeBron has to utilize Chalmers' size more so than he needs those impressive scoring efforts.

Chalmers isn't built like your average point guard. He can barrel into the paint, bullying his way to points with such fervor that defenses feel compelled to collapse, allowing him to kick it out to an open shooter or into the hands of cutter.

LeBron needs Chalmers' bodily limits so they can run the interior pick-and-roll to perfection.

Once more, our travels bring us back to the fourth quarter of Game 6.

With the Heat down by six early in the period, Chalmers and LeBron gear up for a set play we've seen LeBron and Wade run before:

LeBron is partially in the paint, and given how far beyond the arc Chalmers is, he's hardly in the ideal position to set a screen, which is kind of the point.

Chalmers then shows right:

As he goes to his right, Manu Ginobili follows and LeBron slides to the left. 

Then Chalmers cuts left:

He leads Ginobili right into LeBron. Faking right allowed LeBron enough time to re-establish himself and get this play going.

Next, Chalmers goes around the screen, making a beeline for the basket:

Ginobili elects to follow Chalmers. Fearing that he could receive an easy look at the rim, Kawhi Leonard provides the help.

Notice how LeBron has already started to explode toward the basket. This clearly isn't going to end well for the Spurs:

LeBron is hit with a pass from Chalmers, and San Antonio's three nearest defenders are in no position to successfully contest what becomes an easy conversion.

Real time.
This play no longer works with Wade as readily. Considering how hobbled he is and how he's been shooting, the Spurs are going to be more worried about a streaking Chalmers than an injury-riddled Wade.

Removing Wade from the offense isn't the end goal here. Again, he's important. Had he been playing better basketball, this series could be over already.

Brendan Maloney-USA TODAY Sports
But it's not. LeBron and the Heat are facing a Game 7 they obviously need to win.

To do so, LeBron needs to effectively attack, even when he doesn't have the ball. He can't do that without a more able-bodied pick-and-roll partner who is a threat to withstand excessive contact and reach the rim. 

The Heat have plenty of shooters LeBron can kick it out to when he drives. Mike Miller, Ray Allen, Shane Battier and Chalmers himself can spot up whenever called upon, so they're not hurting for options.

There is only one other Miami player not named Dwyane Wade who has the handle, strength and awareness necessary to complement LeBron on deep pick-and-rolls, and that's Chalmers.

 

Tony Parker First, Everyone Else Second

Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sport
LeBron has to defend Tony Parker, because he just has to.

Chalmers and Norris Cole have the physical tools to hamper his attack; they just can't anticipate his next move as well as The King. No one on the Heat can.

So LeBron must stick to Parker like Sean Paul sticks to his girls—like glue. Like something stronger than glue, even. Like an all-purpose, impenetrable adhesive.

Just as he did in (you guessed it) Game 6.

LeBron helped hold Parker to 6-of-23 shooting in Miami's first win-or-go-home bout of the series. Things got a bit out of control late in the fourth, but for the most part, LeBron stymied Parker first and picked up the slack everywhere else later.

One last time, let's head back to the fourth quarter of Game 6.

Parker has the ball, like always:

LeBron doesn't have to give him as much space as others because he has the dexterity to recover from any dribble move Parker attempts.

Credit Chris Andersen here as well, as he cuts off both a potential entry pass and any dribble penetration.

Realizing that he's not going anywhere—and hasn't been all night—Parker sends a pass across the court to Danny Green:

That's the first goal: keeping Parker outside of the paint and behind the arc—where he is a 30.2 percent shooter in the playoffs for his career—and then forcing the ball out of his hands. LeBron did this here.

Of course, that's only the beginning.

Green gets a step on Allen, forcing Birdman to help. Andersen leaves Tim Duncan behind him in the process:

Duncan, being the intelligent veteran that he is, tiptoes his way toward the rim, hoping for an easy two:

LeBron, meanwhile, has abandoned his Parker post to become a part of the action. And I'm perfectly fine with it. So is Erik Spoelstra.

The Heat will give Parker that shot. Standing behind the three-point line, Parker isn't the threat he normally is. On a night like Game 6, when he's shooting a shade over 25 percent from the floor, I doubt he even thinks about taking that shot anyway.

Now back to Green. He threads the needle in traffic to a gliding Duncan, who should have an easy layup. LeBron says otherwise:

Not only does he block the shot, but he goes and scores at the other end before the Spurs have had enough time to adequately set up their defense.

Real time.

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Defense that creates offense is the best kind. More importantly, forcing the ball out of Parker's hands and pinning him down behind the three-point line where he can't make an impact is the best kind of defense.

It's the same kind LeBron needs to play on him in Game 7. Every second of every quarter for the entire game. 

If he can take Parker out of San Antonio's offensive equation even slightly, he'll be in place to salvage a collapsed defensive set like this one. If he can play Parker like he did for much of Game 6, the Heat can win.

Actually, if he does that, the Heat will win.

 

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