LeBron James’ Worst Game in the NBA? How Timely.
There is no bright side.
And there’s no use revisiting Tuesday night’s 120-88 loss to the Boston Celtics in Gave Five. It’s basically more of the same . . . only worse than ever . . . and the Cleveland Cavaliers don’t seem to care. Honestly, I have no idea what’s up with LeBron and the rest of the team, and it doesn’t seem like anyone else does either.
Naturally, this is a pretty irritable time to be a Cavs fan . . . to say the least. Suddenly, and without any warning, everything has been thrown in the balance: The title march, the Finals appearance march, the rematch against the Orlando Magic in the Eastern Conference Finals.
And obviously, you can take it much further than that . . . but I can’t right now.
But it isn’t that the Cavs hit a roadblock, it’s that the roadblock has knocked the Cavs down . . . and apparently, they have a collective concussion. That’s the only way I can explain having your ass handed to you over and over again . . . and not seem to be aware of the fact that something is wrong. Or be willing to put forth a solid effort regardless.
It’s truly bizarre, and it’s making my head hurt.
So in the absence of any comfort thoughts, or glass-half-full angles, I’m going to go ahead and rip LeBron for having one of his worst games (if not the worst game) of his career . . . at arguably the absolute worst time possible . . . and not really having something interesting to say about it.
Now, I’m not going to really rip him. Like all players, great players have bad games . . . and like all not-great players, great players have low-energy, weak efforts. But great players don’t give weak efforts in their bad games. That’s what separates great players from not-great players in the first place.
First off, was Tuesday night’s game the worst game of LeBron’s NBA career?
Considering that it was the playoffs . . . and considering the high stakes . . . it was. Easily. If you compound that with his blasé attitude and intensity level, and it’s . . . well, still the worst game, but even more bad, disheartening and baffling.
LeBron was 3-for-14 shooting the ball. That’s 21.4%. He was 0-for-4 from beyond the arc, which is 0% . . . and 9-for-12 from the stripe, which is actually a semi-normal 75%. He finished with 15 points, seven assists and six rebounds. (By the way, because of the divergence between numbers and visual evidence in this series . . . you can’t argue that LeBron’s assist and rebound numbers demonstrated that he was a factor in other areas of the game. He wasn’t.)
That 21.4% was the ninth worst FG% in LeBron’s NBA career, including both playoff and regular season games. Or, you can look at it like this: LeBron shot a better percentage in 609 of his 618 NBA games.
And in one of those nine poor shooting games, LeBron only played 17 minutes and left due to an injury. (At that point, he’d missed all five of his shots. So, I think you could probably throw that one out.)
Ironically, the most recent game in which LeBron shot 21.4% or worse also came in the playoffs at the hands of the Celtics. It was Game One of the 2008 series, a series the Cavs ended up losing in seven. In that one, which was played in Boston, LeBron was 2-for-18 (11.1%) with 12 points. He missed all six of his three pointers, and made eight of his 12 points at the free throw line. Weirdly, he almost had a triple-double . . . notching nine assists and nine rebounds.
But LeBron did have a double-double in that one . . . if you include turnovers. He coughed the ball up 10 times in that game, which tied a career high. He’d done that two other times before. (In Tuesday’s game, LeBron had three turnovers.)
After that game, James said:
“I missed a lot of shots I know I can make,” James said, staring at the stat sheet incredulously after scoring just two points in the second half and missing his last six shots in all. “I missed layups. Those layups I’ve made my whole life.”
That was the only playoff game with a worse FG%. As for the seven (or six, if you don’t count that injury game) regular season games, all of them were in LeBron’s first two seasons in the league . . . except a 2-for-11 (18.2%) night against the Dallas Mavericks on opening night in 2007.
So, out of the blue, LeBron James just has his worst shooting night in two years . . . in Game Five of a 2-2 series, which has seen a lot of abysmal Cavs effort on both sides of the ball? Apparently.
I suppose the timing could be a little worse. It could have been in a close-out game. But then again, it isn’t a walk in the park trying to figure out where to set your expectations for the team going forward. And by going forward, right now, I can only mean Game Six . . . because as hard as it is to believe, that’s all Cleveland has left, unless they find some collective effort.
So what did LeBron talk about after Tuesday’s game? He said:
“Of course the [Boston] defense had a little to do with [my bad shooting night], because they’re on the court and they’re very aggressive. But I just missed a lot of shots. A lot of open shots that I’m capable of making. And . . . you don’t see that out of me a lot, so when it happens, it’s a big surprise.
“I’ll go over the film, but they played me the same way they’ve played me all series. And I just wasn’t able to knock down those shots that I got some good looks at.
“I wasn’t able to get anything going offensively for myself, but I was still able to do some other things . . . get some rebounds and some assists and get guys going early in the game. And it was a good game, at the start.”
When asked about the possibility that this could’ve been the Cavs’ final home game of the season, if things don’t go well Thursday night in Boston, he said:
“Nah, I didn’t even think about that. I feel like Game Six is a huge game for us. And Game Five was a huge game . . . we just didn’t come out and play particularly well all game. I think in the first quarter we did, but we didn’t play particularly well in the second quarter, third or fourth. Me sitting up here saying [that this could've been our final game in Cleveland this year], that wouldn’t be me. It wouldn’t be our team.”
When asked if the Cavs were still trying to find their identity, he said:
“No, I don’t think so. We know what it takes to win as a team, but at the same time, we haven’t played great basketball. It’s been all playoffs . . . we’ve had a few stretches, a few quarters, a few games where we played particularly well. But for a collective group, throughout the whole playoffs, we haven’t played great basketball. So, I don’t think it’s an identity thing, I think it’s a consistency thing . . . and we haven’t had that.
“[On Tuesday] we shot 41% from the field, and that’s never going to help us win a game . . . when we’re not executing offensively.”
When asked what he thought of the fans at The Q booing the team, he said:
“We played awful. They have every right to boo us. No disrespect to our fans. They’ve been great to us. They’ve seen us at the highest level, they’ve seen us at the lowest level. If they [felt like booing] . . . so be it.”
When asked about his elbow, he said:
“It felt good, I didn’t have any problems with it.
“I spoil a lot of people with my play. When you have three bad games in a seven-year career, it is easy to point that out.
“I put a lot of pressure on myself to go out be great and the best player on the court. When I’m not, I feel bad for myself because I’m not going out there and doing the things I know I can do. But I don’t hang my head low and make excuses, because that is not the type of player or the type of person I am.”
I totally respect that.
But in this one instance LeBron, can we just blame the elbow . . . or something? Can you just give us a few excuses . . . a few explanations?
If it’s an injury, admit that it’s affecting your gameplan, but you’re working through it. If it’s something personal, say you weren’t feeling well. If it was something with a coach or a teammate, come out and say that there was some miscommunication and/or confusion and you’re going to work it out with that coach/teammate before the next game so everyone’s on the same page.
With how brilliant LeBron James has been for seven seasons, there must be a perfectly logical explanation for his three strange performances in this series. I don’t want to freak out here. I want to believe the Cavs can take the next two from Boston. But something seems really off . . . and I’d just feel better knowing what it is.
So, just give us something. Anything.