For the Cleveland Cavaliers to win an NBA championship, LeBron James has to be perfect.
That is the position the “LeBrons” have put the franchise in after falling behind 3-2 in their best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinal series against the Boston Celtics.
The destiny of the organization does not rest on the shoulders of No. 23. It rests on the shoulders of Mo Williams, Anthony Parker, Antawn Jamison, and Shaquille O’Neal.
Judging by the tenor of the reaction to James’ subpar Game Five performance, all of a sudden the best basketball player on the planet's legacy is on the line, and if the Cavaliers don’t advance to the NBA Finals, you can book him playing for the Chicago Bulls, New York Knicks, or Los Angeles Lakers.
James was right when he told the press following the 120-88 defeat Tuesday that he has spoiled everyone with his play.
He has. Winning back-to-back MVPs does that.
However, no stud player can do it alone.
Kobe Bryant was average at best in the Oklahoma City series, and the Lakers won in six games. Dwight Howard was an afterthought against the Bobcats, but yet the Magic easily won the series.
James can't have an off or even average game or Cleveland won't win in the playoffs. LeBron had an average Game Three against the 41-41 Chicago Bulls in Round One, which resulted in the only loss of the series for the No. 1 seed.
Now, there is no excuse you can make for James' 3-of-14 shooting from the field. He was simply bad in Game Five, and he hasn't played to his potential in the other losses, being outdone by Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, and Kevin Garnett.
Notice I did not mention Paul Pierce, who had 21 points in Game Five but has averaged 13.6 points per game and shot 35 percent from the field overall in the second round. That is what happens when teammates help mask inconsistent play. It goes almost unnoticed.
When an aging O’Neal leads the team in points in a must-win game, it speaks volumes about the lack of a supporting cast surrounding the NBA's best player.
Some might say since the Cavaliers have had the league's best record two straight seasons, there is no reason to bring up the lack of worthy disciples to spread the good news about King James.
When the stakes are raised in the playoffs, not only does the star have to step up, but so do the secondary players. And in the Boston series that has not happened.
It is easy to point out how Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, and Bryant willed their teams to postseason wins. That is right. But there were a lot of games where the secondary players in certain games picked up the slack.
Every playoff game Jordan played was not a 30-, 40-, or 50-point masterpiece. The Lakers and Celtics did not win every Finals game when Magic and Larry were at their peak.
I don't think this is a case of Williams, Jamison, O’Neal, and Parker not being good enough talent-wise. Those are good players. Aside from O‘Neal, who has been through the playoff wars and won championships, the rest of the squad has not had a history of rising to the occasion in the postseason.
From the outside looking in, it seems that if James does not get off, his teammates either shy away or flat-out lose confidence in their own ability as NBA players to provide assistance.
James has been criticized for not being a cold-blooded killer on the floor in big series. But how can James be that Napoleon Bonaparte when he can’t trust the cavalry to arrive?
James picked up Cleveland in the 2007 Eastern Conference Finals against the then-defending conference champion Detroit Pistons and carried the team to the NBA Finals.
He averaged 35 points and seven dimes in last year's postseason, including bailing out the squad in Game Two of last year’s playoffs against the Orlando Magic by nailing a buzzer-beater.
In the Orlando series alone, James averaged 38 points, eight rebounds, and eight assists for the series. Yet the frustration continued with another playoff defeat.
Fast forward 12 months and James has averaged 29 points (the highest average of any player remaining in the postseason) and again seven assists (the only non-guard in the top five of assists in the playoffs), and the Cavs are on the brink of elimination. The cavalry is failing to arrive.
Even when James was legendarily great for six games against the Magic, it was still not enough. And now that James is just only good, Cleveland is still staring in the face of elimination.
In do-or-die games, James has been splendid averaging 36 points, nine boards, and seven assists with his team's back against the wall.
Maybe, just maybe, it is not LeBron James who lacks the killer instinct. Maybe, just maybe, his teammates need to find some of their own.
That would be perfect.