No excuses for Game 4. LeBron has been surprisingly quiet offensively for most of this series, but he always had an explanation in the past. He was focused on his defense. He was deferring to Dwyane Wade by design. Whatever he had to say, it made sense. But there was none of that this time. No way.
"He struggled," Chris Bosh said of his superstar teammate. "Point blank. Period. He struggled out there."
LeBron tied a career low with just 11 shot attempts in a postseason game on Tuesday night. He finished with only eight points on 3-of-11 shooting, his first single-digit playoff game ever. There were plenty of crunch-time mistakes to go around for the Heat in Game 4, just enough to produce a last-second 86-83 loss, but we can forget about the little things. It's a whole different ballgame if LeBron gets himself involved.
"I think the fact that it happened in a loss is the angry part about it," James said of his performance. "That's all that matters to me. If I'd have had eight points and we'd have won the game, I could be satisfied. I wouldn't really care about it. But the fact that I could have done more offensively to help our team is the angry part for myself. I'll come back in Game 5 and try do more things to help our team win."
LeBron has preached this past week that his defense has been the key. Even when he's not carrying the team by scoring, he's doing things on the other end to help the team. But this time, it wasn't even that. LeBron was clearly outshone by the Mavs' wings, Jason Terry and Shawn Marion, both of whom scored in double figures.
This was a bad game all around. And this time, LeBron knows better than to criticize his fans for being "spoiled" by his play. This time, he's holding himself accountable.
"I've got to do a better job of being more assertive offensively, not staying out of rhythm off the whole game," he said. "One thing I tried to concentrate on is if I get two guys on me, just trying to make my teammates better, hitting those guys for open looks. They made some great looks, but at the same time, I've got to keep myself in rhythm as well."
The great LeBron irony is that for all the criticism he's taken off the court for being a selfish person, he's far from a selfish basketball player. In fact, it's the opposite problem that sometimes gets him into trouble. This is the same guy who was bashed four years ago for passing to Donyell Marshall in the final seconds of a playoff game rather than taking the last shot himself. That night, he set a playoff career low with 10 points — and he wouldn't break that personal mark until Tuesday.
LeBron's had a problem with overpassing from time to time, whether it's to Donyell or D-Wade. There's always been someone there to bail him out when he doesn't want the shot.
But now, with the NBA Finals reduced to a best-of-three and LeBron closer than ever to his first championship, he's got to be more of a factor.
"I would like to get him involved," said Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, making the obvious statement of the series to date. "He's a very important piece of what we do. So we'll work to help make it easier for him next game."
On one hand: They'd better. LeBron's revival is the key to the Heat winning a title in 2011, and Spoelstra's got to do everything he can to enable his superstar.
Then again, maybe it's not about coaching adjustments or game plans. Maybe it's just something innate about LeBron that has to change, and quick.
LeBron James has spent all season turning his aggression on and off, alternating between taking games over and taking breathers while Dwyane Wade does the dirty work for him. That's got to stop now. The Heat are two wins away from their ultimate goal, and they need LeBron's killer instinct to guide them there.