The dust has settled and the microscope has been stored away until October.
LeBron James can now go about his life without having to watch the highlights of his failures in this past year's NBA Finals or having to hear about what possibly caused him to play so dreadfully.
If not for James' execution down the stretch, the Heat could be the one holding the hardware and having Zydrunas Ilgauskas singing awkward renditions of We are the champions.
For instance, in Game 2 with the Heat up by 15 points and eight minutes left, the Heat elected to have LeBron James control the offensive tempo rather than Dwyane Wade who had already scored 36 points. Miami would go on to lose to tie the series.
In Game 4, James scored a grand total of eight points in a game where the Heat only lost by three points. If the Heat win, they lead the series 3-1 with one game in Dallas and two games in Miami remaining.
Game 5 and Game 6 weren't any prettier. I'm sure you all know the story by now.
The main criticism of the Heat during that series concerned James' mental abilities. After two series where he absolutely dominated late in games, LeBron looked like a completely different player when the game was on the line and the ball was in his hands. He was tentative, hesitant, and passive and looked to be the last player on the floor that wanted to decide the outcome of the game.
For the first time in James' basketball career, he honestly didn't appear to have any confidence. No cockiness. No swagger. Nothing.
It was LeBron at his worst. All those years of post season failures added up into one series and what we got was the 2011 NBA Finals. He averaged 18 points per game and was being used as a number one scoring option that wanted to play like a number three option. When the ball was in the hands of one of the league's best offensive facilitators, the offense was stagnant and monotonous with the same result on nearly every possession.
However it's just one series. It was the NBA Finals, but it's obvious the pressure of finally making it this far got to LeBron. If he is the best player in the world as he claims to be then he'll find ways to beat a defense like Dallas' and will make adjustments to make himself a better player.
His teammate Dwyane Wade reigns supreme because of his ability to take on any defense that is thrown at him. He's a smart enough player that finds ways to score rather than growing frustrated and settling for what the defense gives him.
LeBron is also one of the best at finding ways to score, but mix in a zone defense with a jump shot that had no confidence and you get James' 2011 NBA Finals appearance. The Boston Celtics and Chicago Bulls both had better, more aggressive defenses and yet James was shut down by Dallas' zone defense because of its conscious effort to limit driving from every slasher on the team. It takes shooters to break a zone, but the Heat failed to use their top shooters in James Jones and Eddie House.
By Game 6, James really didn't want the ball in his hands. He was actually getting to the hoop consistently for the first time since Game 1 and was still passing it off. Whether he was trying to be generous to his teammates or was scared to throw up a shot, it was the wrong idea by James who can't be unselfish at moments like that. He was signed to be the offensive facilitator and he wasn't doing his job.
Another problem with James in Game 6—and the rest of the series—was that he might have been too unselfish at times. At 26 points per game for the regular season, James was expected to do nearly the same throughout the post season and more importantly in the Finals. The Heat expect him to be able to score at will because of his athleticism that allows him to penetrate and draw fouls or his new-found jump shot that appeared to be consistent for the most part.
It's a good thing as well to see James passing.
He's one of the best facilitators and one of the best passers in the league for a player of his size. LeBron can find players for open scores and it's up to his teammates to make their open shots. It was how Cleveland was so successful in the regular season, James would penetrate, attract the double team, and kick out to an open shooter. Eventually, teams began finding out how to play this and that's why Cleveland never got as far as getting swept in the 2007 Finals.
At moments as big as what the Heat experienced a few weeks ago, they expect James to become the leader that they're paying him for. They've got Dwyane Wade, but they want that young, athletic spark that can bully any opposing player defending him one-on-one or even the zone defense if he was quick enough to use pick-and-rolls. James needs to play the role of scorer when called upon.
After a month of watching in awe of what he would do, it was obvious that the Heat needed LeBron to go off if they wanted to continue to see post-season success. Once it stopped and James was averaging 17 points per game, they didn't stand a chance. They had two Chris Boshs and only one player attempting to take it to the rim.
The 2011 Finals was quality experience for LeBron James and the rest of this Heat team who are set to play together for the next four or five years. Great players make adjustments and learn from their mistakes and it shouldn't come as a surprise to see this team favored to win next years title. They're going to be smarter and hungrier, two key factors for any team wanting to win a championship. The big three have heard enough criticism, they need to stop talking and start walking.
The criticism that focuses on James is immense and only he can find a way to stop it. By being the player that he was coveted for, he can win a title(s). The Heat need to see that killer instinct that only the greatest players in NBA history possess if they want to see multiple titles coming back home to Miami.
For James, he's going to have to be that scorer especially when Wade's age and health begins to catch up on him (he's going to be 30 next season). At 27 years old entering the 2011-'12 season, James has to use his God-given talent of athleticism to beat his opponents. Miami didn't pay for a jump shooter and they didn't pay for someone that was going to pass up open shots, LeBron needs to be the player he was the entire season.