“We said, ‘If we take these things from him, maybe somebody else will be able to help out or maybe not,’ ” Bowen said. “It was more or less on the not side.”
This time around, in his fourth Finals appearance, James doesn’t expect to encounter the same problems. “First of all, I think our team is more experienced,” James said. “My Cleveland team, we were very young, and we went up against a very experienced team, well-coached team. And they took advantage of everything that we did. I think for this team, this is our third year advancing to the Finals. So we're very experienced as well. We’re not young, we're not inexperienced. We understand the opportunity that we have.”
The Post Sports Live crew previews the NBA Finals between the San Antonio Spurs and the Miami Heat.
While the loss to San Antonio was the first of several humbling experiences that have fueled James, his flameout against Dallas in his second trip to the NBA Finals with Miami in 2011 would serve as the ground floor for the bounce back.
“I think the zone and the comfort level I’m in right now happened because Dallas beat us,” James said. “I just went back to the basics. I went back home, I went back to Ohio. I worked out with my high school coach. I went back to my high school gym, and just put myself in the mind-set of what made me fall in love with the game. And it's because I had a lot of fun with it.
“I'm happy I’m able to play this game at the highest level,” James said. “I love to compete. I love to represent what basketball stands for. But I don’t put too much added pressure on myself, because I know it’s just a game.”
Bowen felt that James’s struggles against Dallas were partly the result of developing chemistry and learning how to trust capable teammates for the first time.
“You can’t just win it on your own in the playoffs,” Bowen said. “It’s one of those deals where you’re learning, it’s on the job training in its best form. It’s those sink or swim moments. And he sank in two of those moments [against San Antonio and Dallas]. And now he’s starting to do things and, I mean, look at his season, he shot 56 percent from the field? That’s video game stuff. . . . He works so hard. I don’t think people really realize how much he works. I asked him once, What is it that motivates you? He said, ‘Bruce, I want to be the best.’ ”
When asked how he would guard James now, Bowen said James has become so advanced that he has turned most opponents’ defensive schemes against them and still managed to come out ahead.
“I just kind of want to be in his way more or less, be kind of like a gnat. That’s what I would do,” Bowen said, before adding, “He’s so good now.”