LeBron and his teammates have morphed into Pat Riley’s old Knicks and Heat, trying to grind out wins solely with defense.
There were a couple of possessions that were just painful to watch from a basic basketball vantage point. LeBron was on the wing once with Duncan, who moves like molasses laterally, guarding him. He thought about driving, but instead pulled up for a jumper. Back rim. Another time Gary Neal got caught in a switch. LeBron dribbled twice and put up another deep jump shot. In and out.
There’s a reason he has only been to the free-throw line six times in three games and none Tuesday night, and it’s not officiating backlash to any talk of conspiracy. No, he doesn’t just put his head and shoulder down and draw contact to get there at the moment.
“They’re packing the paint, playing off of him,” Erik Spoelstra explained. The Heat coach didn’t seem worried, adding, “He’ll figure it out. He always figures it out. I’m not concerned about that. We’ll work to make sure that’s he’s getting to places he can be comfortable and confident.”
A lot of it has to do with how precise the Spurs are playing and the contribution they’re getting outside of their Big Three — Neal and Danny Green dropped in a combined 13three-pointers and finished with 51 points between them.
Kawhi Leonard puts up double-doubles like he’s Kevin Love or Elton Brand, circa early 2000s. He finished with 14 points and 12 rebounds on Tuesday night and, more importantly, became so attached to LeBron on defense he practically needed to be pried off him.
But this still comes down to the best player on the floor deciding to take over a game and a series before it’s too late, and LeBron and his teammates find themselves just trying to take one game to bring the series back to Miami.
Funny, no, how so much fuss was made March 31 when LeBron, Wade and Mario Chalmers did not play here against the Spurs — a marquee Sunday TV game. The Heat said they all had legitimate injuries, but the Spurs took it as payback for an early-season game in which Gregg Popovich sent his best players home on a commercial flight before the Miami game, a stunt that earned the organization a $250,000 fine.
In hindsight, San Antonio should not have taken it personal — because LeBron, Wade (another lackluster second half) and Chalmers (no points two nights after he led the Heat with 19) didn’t show up for Game 3 of the Finals either Tuesday night.
The final horn just sounded. It’s loud. It’s ear-splitting loud.
And none of the noise is coming from LeBron, who better say and do something before another championship slips away.
“I’m putting everything on my chest and my shoulders and I’ve got to be better,” LeBron said. “My teammates were doing a good job, I’m not doing my part. It’s frustrating when you get smashed like that. I’m still sweating from the game. I’m not happy, I’m very upset about the game. There’s tomorrow, we’ll prepare and we’ll be better and I’ll be better.”
For previous columns by Mike Wise, visit washingtonpost.com/wise.