SAN ANTONIO -- Where have you gone, LeBron James, and when are you coming back? Where is the offensive dominance that makes defenders and rims quake?
Where is the greatest player in the NBA and one of its most prolific scorers when the Heat needs him the most, which is right now? When will the league’s Most Valuable Player start being that on his own team again?
Forget “remember the Alamo.”
Heat fans today are trying to remember the LeBron James who makes the highlight reels not for a pass or a rebound or a block – but for a dunk-festooned game of 35 or 40 points.
Only James could accomplish something last done in the NBA Finals by Celtics goateed great Bill Russell in flower-power 1969 and still leave the impression that he is underperforming, that he has somehow been a disappointment.
Welcome to LeBron’s world.
For him, sometimes even great isn’t good enough, so you know THIS isn’t.
For him, sometimes when the brain tries to tell you he is doing enough, the gut knows better: He must do more.
That feels like where the Heat is at right now, down 2 games to 1 in these Finals after Tuesday night’s 113-77 loss – the worst playoff defeat in Miami’s 25-year franchise history – in the first of three straight games here in the beating heart of Texas.
LeBron managed only 15 points on 7-for-21 shooting.
“I’ve got to be better. It’s that simple,” James said afterward. “I’m putting everything on my shoulders. My teammates are doing a great job, and I’m not doing my part.”
Shoddy Heat defense saw the Spurs set an NBA Finals record with 16 3-point shots to deal Miami its worst defeat of the Big 3 era. Somehow, Miami got routed with two guys named Danny Green and Gary Neal leading the opposition.
“A terrible performance by the Miami Heat,” Dwyane Wade called it.
Don’t pin all that on what LeBron did, or didn’t do.
But Miami clearly is missing James the offensive force, James the dominator capable of scoring 30-plus points with seeming ease and 40 or more when needed.
That’s “missing” as in not seeing, and missing as in longing to see again.
“He’ll figure it out. He always figures it out,” coach Erik Spoelstra said of James. “I’m not concerned about that.”
Don’t get this wrong. James’ all-round game in these Finals has been otherwise solid. He entered Game 3 as the first player since Russell almost 45 years ago to collect as many as 26 rebounds and 17 assists in the first two games of a Finals. He had 11 more rebounds Tuesday. James has been admirably selfless, making a clear effort to get other, struggling teammates involved.
He also has been nothing special putting the ball in the basket, which continues as the fundamental bottom line by which games are decided, and championships won.
Time to get selfish, LeBron.
You say there’s no “I” in “team”? Maybe Miami needs some of that if the “I” happens to be the greatest current player in the NBA, the four-time league MVP, a player capable of such prolific scoring that his nickname, King, can sometimes seems a case of modesty.
LeBron, though, doesn’t need to take more shots as much as he needs to MAKE more shots. He is allowing himself to be erased by defender Kawhi Leonard. Tuesday LeBron had zero free-throw attempts – which hadn’t happened all season. Not once.