After the Cleveland Cavaliers lost Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals, LeBron James said that he gave everything he had in the 46 minutes he played, that he felt great, that he tried to involve himself and his teammates and that his “individual game plan was pretty good.”
Not to read too much into those comments, but isn’t it strange to illuminate your individual play when your team just lost its second straight playoff game?
“Well, it wasn’t so much the answer that made me scratch my head; it was the question,” NBA insider Sekou Smith said on CBS Sports Radio’s Tiki and Tierney. “It was a guy asking LeBron, basically making a statement, about how great of a player you are and how do you assess the way you’re playing right now. What does that have to do with anything? I thought the questions were a little weird, and LeBron has kind of a reflex. When they ask him about himself, he’s quick to point out all of his virtues. Yeah, it’s a strange thing to hear after you’ve lost a second straight game to Toronto after dominating them in the first two games, but I don’t find a whole lot of fault in how LeBron has played. I agree with everybody else who says Kevin Love has to actually make an appearance again in this series.”
After scoring a combined 33 points in Games 1 and 2, Love scored a combined 13 in Games 3 and 4. The Cavs lost both games.
James, meanwhile, had another solid all-around performance in Game 4, finishing with 29 points, nine rebounds, six assists, two steals and a block. But he was also held scoreless for the final 5:28 of regulation, during which he attempted just one shot and zero free throws.
“To me, that’s always been the one glitch in LeBron’s game,” Smith said. “When it’s time to take over and do what natural scorers do – guys who want to take those big shots, those clutch shots – it’s not his (style). I’m going back to when we first saw him, when he was playing at St. Vincent-St. Mary’s and we watched him setting up his high school teammates for easy shots, making sure to be the guy to make the pass to the guy who makes the dunk or the shot. When that’s the way your DNA is, when that’s the way your game is made and the way you’ve always played, it’s hard for you to flip that switch and try and be something that you’re not. I think LeBron’s first instinct is to make the play, not necessarily make the shot, whereas a guy like Kevin Durant or a guy like Russell Westbrook, for example, are guys whose first instinct and natural instinct is ‘I’m going to beat you with this shot’ as opposed to ‘I’m going to beat you with this play that I make.’”
Durant and Westbrook have made plenty of shots and plays in the Western Conference Finals. In the last two games, Durant has 59 points, 19 rebounds, six assists, four blocks and four steals, while Westbrook has 66 points, 10 rebounds, 23 assists and six six steals. They’ve been, in a word, dominant.
Golden State, on the other hand, has been thoroughly embarrassed in each of its last two games and is now one loss from elimination. Are the Warriors ready to deal with desperation?
“We’re going to find out in this next game, but I don’t think so,” Smith said. “For a team that played through all of the drama and all of the chatter last year, they came back this season and they were even better than anybody imagined. You got Steph and these guys sitting out 19 fourth quarters. To me, all of that catches up to you now. I hear people saying, ‘Well, are they fatigued? Is this the after effect of chasing 72 wins?’ Absolutely not. They’re getting their lips busted by a team that has got them at the end of their jabs. They’re just getting whipped. It happens, and you have to be man enough to admit it, which I think Steve Kerr did after (Game 4). I appreciated the fact that he didn’t look for some escape path. He’s like, hey, they’re taking it to us, we’re not responding, we’re not playing as well as we could, we’re making mistakes we can’t make against a defense that’s this good – and to me, that’s a sign of respect. If you’re going to get your butt whooped, get it whooped and get it whooped on your feet like a man. The Thunder are just kicking their tail right now.”