The Miami Heat beat the Dallas Mavericks 88-86 last night, surviving several Mavs runs (and a last-second tying shot attempt from Dirk Nowitzki) to retake the lead in the NBA Finals. The Heat’s best player last night: Dwyane Wade, who recorded 29 points and 11 rebounds.
Those point/rebound totals dwarfed LeBron James‘ 17 and three, respectively (though he did have nine assists, which he deserves some credit for). That relatively low output was enough to make CBS columnist Gregg Doyel think LeBron is shrinking from the moment (he said as much in a column last night). He also said as much to LeBron in a postgame press conference last night. LeBron was having none of it:
For what it’s worth, Doyel later praised LeBron for “handl[ing] my question PERFECTLY.” We can’t quite give it a perfect grade ourselves because of the lack of an accompanying wink, but it was pretty good (especially considering Doyel didn’t exactly phrase his question delicately). The ability to play shutdown defense is indeed an important part of LeBron’s game, Wade did have the hot hand, and there are only so many shots to go around.
But Doyel, in his column, raises some interesting points about LeBron’s lack of fourth-quarter production (nine points total) in the Finals so far. And his argument that LeBron overall production isn’t even that great, considering the huge minutes he’s playing, is also worth considering. It’s jarring to see LeBron’s role at the end of te game so reduced from when he was finishing off the Celtics and Bulls earlier in the playoffs.
There are still at least two Finals games left to reverse that trend, but for now, it’s at least worth keeping an eye on – and LeBron informing us all that he’s actually doing great is a bit reminiscent of his “I spoil a lot of people with my play” line after his horrendous Game 5 against the Celtics last year. LeBron doesn’t have to – and shouldn’t – do it all for the Heat, but through three games of the NBA Finals, it’s fair to wonder why he isn’t doing more.