If this somehow was LeBron James’ final home game at AmericanAirlines Arena, it was one to forget.
While most believe he’l stay in Miami – win or lose – James can opt out of his contract whenever this series ends. And after zero support in Game 4, it could end Sunday.
James left Cleveland, in large part, because he had to carry too much of the load.
On Thursday night, he had the entire team on his back.
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James was stellar, particularly in the second half, but it wasn’t nearly enough. The Spurs’ complete effort swamped James’ excellence, rolling to a second straight blowout victory on Miami’s home court.
In turn, San Antonio is 48 minutes away from celebrating a second NBA title at James’ expense. The Spurs swept LeBron’s Cavaliers in 2007.
But there wasn’t even another All-Star on that Cleveland roster. The Heat has four potential Hall of Famers. On Thursday, only James played like one.
He had 19 of the team’s 21 points in the third quarter. On the night, James scored a game-high 28 points on 10-of-17 shooting.
The rest of the team made only 22 of their 54 attempts (41 percent).
“It’s not all on my shoulders,” James said. “I understand that I get a lot of the limelight. I do it for my teammates, and I want them to put a lot of pressure on me in that sense. We have another game on Sunday to right this ship and get better at it.”
Ray Allen hit a couple of threes in the first half, but didn’t do much else. Chris Bosh was largely invisible for the second time in three nights, scoring 12.
But most alarming, Dwyane Wade again looked spent. He missed six of his first seven shots and was repeatedly exposed on defense. He was even dunked on by Boris Diaw.
Things only got marginally better in the second half. The Spurs’ collapsing defense left him absolutely no place to drive. And when he pulled up, there was always a hand in his face.
On the night, Wade shot a horrid 3 of 13, scoring 10. He also had three turnovers. It was a bit reminiscent of Game 3 of the Bucks series last year, when he made 1 of 12 for four points.
“You have to credit their defense as well,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “A couple he just missed. That happens through competition.”
Wade had an excuse that year. His left knee was so balky, he needed offseason surgery. But he was supposed to be fresh this time around after a season-long maintenance plan, appearing in only regular-season 54 games.
And it seemed to have worked; Wade scored in double figures in each of the first 18 games of this postseason.
But the warning signs were there, even in success. Wade rarely finished at the rim like he did in his prime and his rebounding and block figures were both down.
On Thursday, his shooting caught up to the rest of his game.
In all, it was a perfectly awful storm for James, the only Heat player to perform at a high level – despite playing in apparent discomfort for most of the night. He left for the locker room twice in the first half – once to use the men’s room, and a second time to get his ankle taped – and grimaced throughout the evening.
And yet, if the Heat goes down in one of the next three games, James will probably take much of the blame in defeat. That’s how it’s been since the day he arrived in Miami.
The criticism, he’d grown used to; he called himself the easiest target in sports.
But at least he had teammates contributing at a high level to help ease the pain.
On Thursday, they failed him.