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How Will LeBron James Respond in Game 4?

by Photo of Scott Davis

Can LeBron James and the Miami Heat rebound after a poor showing and even up the NBA Finals?

How Will LeBron James Respond in Game 4?

Much has been made of LeBron James's struggles through three games in the NBA Finals. Of course, only someone of LeBron's caliber could be criticized for averaging 16 points, 12 rebounds, and 7 assists per game in the NBA Finals. However, there are two glaring numbers that do warrant some criticism of the NBA's best player: James's 39% shooting and a 2-1 series deficit. James's reputation is such that nearly averaging a triple-double (while receiving little help from fellow All-Stars Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade) and losing to one of the NBA's truly elite teams is a sign of failure.

Credit absolutely must be given to the San Antonio Spurs for the defensive job they've done, at least forcing James into 50% of his struggles. Kawhi Leonard is a long, lanky, strong defender who's done a more than admirable job making James a shooter and pestering him on drives. When James has gotten into the paint, San Antonio had done its best to make it crowded in there, using a bouquet of long-limbed, tall defenders to obscure James's vision. As a result, the Spurs have dared James to shoot, sagging off him when he has the ball on the perimeter, therefore situating their defense to be ready for his barrels to the basket where he's most dangerous.

Yet, for all of the credit the Spurs deserve, part of James's struggles have been his own. The Spurs' defense has made him tentative; he's thinking rather than reacting. Game 3 highlighted James's woes as he misfired early, began making questionable decisions and taking and missing less desirable shots. At one point in the third quarter, James was merely 2-13 from the field and he didn't get to the free throw line all game. Again, the Spurs' defensive job has been impressive, but if we are to crown James the NBA's best player, four-time MVP winner, then he has to take criticism, something NBA fans and analysts are usually happy to do.

Game 4 will be looked at as a must-win for the Miami Heat, and in some ways, it is. Though if they lose they'll only be facing a 3-1 deficit, it also means facing elimination on the road - a tough, undesirable task. If the Heat win Game 4, it'll obviously be a tied series, and they'll have essentially won home-court advantage back, knowing they'd be back in Miami for Games 6 and 7.

So how can James respond? A simple look at the numbers tells what he needs to do more, though it may be easier said than done. According to NBA.com/Stats, James is shooting 63% from eight feet or less from the basket. Beyond eight feet, he's shooting an average of 21.6%. Likewise, almost 62% of LeBron's points have been unassisted, versus scoring 59% of his baskets unassisted in the regular season. Basically, LeBron and the Heat need to find a way to get James near the basket and get some help from teammates to get him easier shots. Easier said than done against a great defensive gameplan from the Spurs.

Game 4 will likely be a crucial game in the series, and it could go a long way in shaping the narratives around James.

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