It doesn’t seem to matter what LeBron James does. The moment he has a bad game his critics come out in full force.
Such was the case Sunday night when the four-time league MVP put up a stinker (11 points, 4 of 13 shooting, 6 turnovers, no points over the final 16 minutes, 31 seconds) in a Game 3 loss to the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals.
After his worst playoff performance since Game 4 of the 2011 NBA Finals with the Miami Heat (Sunday’s game was only the second time James didn’t score in the fourth quarter of a playoff game), James was reportedly heckled on his way to his press conference by a drunk fan inside Quicken Loans Arena.
It’s easy to tell James, 32, was bother by that and even some questions from the Cavs local media. When a local radio host asked him a rather innocuous question, James responded with: “You only ask questions when we lose... You always come around when we lose, I swear.”
A day later, James’ most vocal critics – like Fox Sports 1 analyst Skip Bayless – have continued to take shots at him.
“Michael Jordan sat back at the end of this game and said, ‘Really? He's better than me?’,” Bayless cracked on his show Monday morning.
Before his rough performance Sunday, James, 32, was having arguably the best postseason of his illustrious NBA career. In his first 10 playoff games –all wins – he was averaging 34.3 points and shooting 57 percent from the field, 46 percent from three-point range and averaging only 3.8 turnovers per game.
Even with Sunday’s lackluster performance, James is still averaging 32.2 points (second-best of his career), 8.3 rebounds, 7.0 assists and 2.2 steals per game in these playoffs.
“He's the best player in the world. I'm not going to criticize him one bit,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said after his team won on a late three-point shot by Avery Bradley. “I don't know what to say other than he’s a handful.”
Sunday’s game marked the first time in LeBron's postseason career that his team lost after leading by 20 points or more. He was previously 49-0.
“LeBron was not engaged tonight,” TNT analyst Charles Barkley said after the game. “I think they did not respect the Celtics. They were going through the motions and still had a big lead and then the Celtics started making shots. But this to me was a perfect example [of the Cavs saying] ‘We’re going to win the series. We’re the better team.’ They just coasted and it came back to bite them.”
Shaquille O’Neal later added: “I agree with Chuck. LeBron didn’t score in the last 16 minutes. That’s unheard of for him. You have to respect your opponent. They just came out cool, dancing in the warmups. They played cool. Boston just hung in there. Boston had great ball movement without Isaiah [Thomas] being there. They just stuck with it. When you have somebody down, you have to put your foot on their neck and take them out. If you don't do that, this will happen.”
For his part, James took ownership of his rough night.
“I had a tough game, period,” he said. “Not just in the second half. Me, personally, I didn’t have it. My teammates did a great job of keeping us in the game and building that lead. But me personally I didn’t have it. That’s what I've got to say about my performance.”