Andrew Unterberger is the Last Angry Man in the crusade against LeBron James and his not-so-gradual march towards total unassailability. He’ll be checking in with us once a month this NBA season for an update on where he’s at with his LeBron hating, and how his attempts to channel all the world’s negative energy towards one generally well-meaning basketball player are progressing.
In my pre-playoffs edition of the LBJ Hate Index, I ranked the 10 most likely obstacles to LeBron winning his second ring this season, taking another step towards basketball’s innerest circle in the process. No. 1, of course, was LeBron himself — as fearful as I am of the man, I always believe him to be the person most in control of his own destiny — and more specifically, “Whatever weird stuff happened with LeBron during his handful of prior playoff meltdowns.” I wrote the following in explanation:
That guy can’t be completely dead and gone, can he? Sure, LeBron seems like he’s “clutch” now, and he’s figured out when to “take over” and all that other nonsense. But there must be a little bit of 2010 LeBron remaining, right? Something that can be triggered, and cause him to act weirdly passive and inert during big games and big moments as his team and the world crumples around him?
Last night, the San Antonio Spurs absolutely steamrolled the Miami Heat, running them off the AT&T Center floor to the tune of a 113-77 final. This isn’t as big a deal as it would be if the Heat hadn’t essentially done the same thing to the Spurs the game before in Miami, rocking them 103-84 in a game that wasn’t even as close as the final 19-point margin would indicate. But it’s still a pretty big deal. It’s by far their biggest loss of the season — they hadn’t lost by more than 20 all year — and more importantly, Miami now trails 2-1 in the series, facing the possibility of the Spurs winning out before the Heat can even make a return trip to South Beach.
This is doubly notable, for both this column and for national news purposes, because LeBron James has not played particularly well over that stretch. Well, by mortal standards, he’s still been fairly boss, going for a triple-double in Game 1 and keying a 33-5 second half run in Game 2 that put the game well out of reach for San Antonio. But he’s been uncharacteristically ineffective when it comes to scoring the ball, going for less than 20 in each of the first three games, shooting under 50 percent in all three, and most stunningly, only getting to the line a combined six times, including a big ol’ bagel in FTAs for Game 3, his first game without a single trip to the charity stripe since 2009. Also worth mentioning: The last time LeBron went three straight games, regular season or playoffs, without scoring 20? Games 3-5 of the 2011 Finals, where the Heat let the series against the Mavs slip through their fingers.
It begs the question, and I certainly doubt that I’ll be the only one asking it today: Is it happening again with LeBron? Is this going to be another playoff series — his third in four years — where we sit around waiting for the Chosen One to flip the switch, put the team on his back, and blow away the inferior competition … only to never have it actually happen? Are we due for another post-elimination press conference where we stare dumbfounded at LeBron, expecting some sort of explanation to make sense of what just happened, but without him giving us any kind of satisfying answers with either his rote responses or stupefyingly blasé demeanor? Is 2010 LeBron alive and well after all?