A Substitute for War

Basketball philosophy

Lebron’s Game 5: To play well, but not the right kind of well

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LeBron James in New York City to discuss the f...

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The vultures are swirling around LeBron James after Game 5, yet another quiet performance for the self appointed King. Not all the hate is deserved. Lebron by most standards had an effective game as shown by his 17 point, 10 rebound and 10 assist statline. He aggresively went after rebounds, looked to score inside, and shredded the Mavericks defense with passes – particularly in the first half of the 4th.

Yes, Lebron played effectively. But it wasn’t the right kind of effective.

The truth is, taking a Finals game on the road is not just about playing well. It’s about gaining a mental edge over the home team. It’s about controlling the game. And this is Lebron’s great failure in these playoffs so far.

To truly dominate in the playoffs, you need to control the game. You need to have your fingers around its throat. You need to be able to say “This is MY game. I’m the hammer, you’re the nail.” After 3 games I thought the Heat were on their way to a title because they had the team version of that. Because of their athletic advantage, they were the ones applying the pressure, they were the hammer. They were the ones pushing on the opposition until they popped. I compared them to a grizzly bear – You can fight it, but eventually it’s going to eat you from brute strength and teeth.

Lebron’s 8 point Game 4 changed everything. When it became clear Lebron wasn’t ready to be aggressive mentally, the Heat turned from a 2 superstar force to 1, with Dwyane Wade trying to win in Dallas by himself. The Heat turned from a grizzly bear to a man. The unbeatable talent and athletic advantage disappeared when Lebron started looking like Hedo Turkoglu offensively.

And that’s why Lebron needed to score, not pass in Game 5. He needed to put the pressure on the Mavericks on – To make the Heat the team they looked like for the first 3 games, intent on pushing them until they popped. He needed to bark at the crowd, emphatically slam the rim, put his physical imprint on the game. He needed to prove the Mavericks couldn’t keep up with the Heat in athleticism and talent. Finding Udonis Haslem and Mario Chalmers for open jumpshots was effective, but the Mavericks never lost control of Game 5. They never stopped being the hammer, for the first time in the series.

The “couldn’t have been scripted better” moment came at the beginning of the 3rd quarter when Wade went to the lockerroom nursing his hip. Now Lebron had the chance to return to the ball dominant, unstoppable force he was in Cleveland. Just like the first game of the Heat’s regular season when after quarters of disjointed play, Wade took a rest and Lebron, playing with spot up role players like he had in Cleveland for so long, started to look like himself again. Many media members would say the same thing – It was the best the Heat’s offense had looked all game. Now in Game 5 of the Finals, Lebron had the chance to come out of his slumber in the same situation, to unleash his old Cleveland self. Yet the King never came out of hibernation and a 4th quarter run aside, neither did the grizzly bear that once was the Heat.

We’ll see if they awake on Sunday. Sometimes a wounded animal is the most dangerous.

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