Not Quite Ready to Be King

By Mike Wise
Wednesday, June 13, 2007

CLEVELAND And in the Third Game, he passed.

LeBron James knows the NBA. Its all-time great players, its long and storied history. He knows no team has ever recovered from a 3-0 deficit in a seven-game series, which is why with less than 15 seconds left here on Tuesday he needed to be the Guy. Down two points and with no other players of consequence to help him out, he needed to put his head down and, whatever it took, get to the rim or the free throw line.

It's an old basketball axiom: Get the ball to your best player in the final seconds and let him find a way to prolong the game or win it.

With his team's season basically on the line, James froze while driving the lane and inexplicably passed to Anderson Varejao, who threw up a hideous shot in one of the most hideous NBA Finals games you'll ever witness.

South Texas Dynasty 3, LeBron and This Crestfallen Midwestern City 0.

Before we unfairly put it all on a 22-year-old who shocked the hoop world to even get his team this far, we have this to say:

Take heart, kid. You're not alone.

Shaquille O'Neal was swept from the Finals in his first try. Magic Johnson's Lakers were swept twice in the Finals, once by an overdue Julius Erving-led Philadelphia team in 1983 and again in 1989, when Magic and Byron Scott were injured. Isiah Thomas lost in his inaugural trip before winning twice. Hakeem Olajuwon and the Rockets were dumped by Larry Bird in 1986 and came back to win two straight in the next decade. Unless you're Michael Jordan, losing on basketball's biggest stage is almost a rite of passage to winning it all one day.

Now, whether the Cavs can take solace in that or not, LeBron still needed to have the ball in his hands and decide the game when it was very winnable.

"I was definitely going to get it back from Andy, but Andy made a good move," James said, explaining why he gave the ball to Varejao. "He just over-shot it. I definitely wanted to try and get a good look at it or give my teammates a better look at it, but it was just miscommunication."

When this series ends Thursday, or Sunday at the latest, there are moments LeBron will want back when he watches the film. At the end of the first quarter, he got the ball on right baseline, about 10 feet from the basket. He basically had Bruce Bowen on the blocks and hesitated, rather than backing a defender down who is two inches shorter and 50 pounds lighter than he is. Until the double-team finally came and LeBron gave it to the limited Varejao, who has heart but cannot be counted on to bail his team out.

Three games in, Bowen has just discombobulated James. LeBron really doesn't know what to do when Bowen is facing him up. He showed a little life late in Game 3, but with three minutes left, when he absolutely should have been going to the rim, LeBron pulled up for a three-pointer that rimmed out. In fact, if there was an MVP of Game 3 it would have to go to the 35-year-old veteran whose wife gave birth to the couple's second baby boy over the weekend.

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