LeBron James has officially joined his supporting cast.
For the majority of the NBA playoffs, James wasn't getting much help. With the exception of the Game 2 NBA Finals romping, he still isn't—at least not the kind he needs.
Dwyane Wade—even after dropping 16 points and five assists in Game 3—and Chris Bosh continue to flounder, forcing James to lean on role players such as Mike Miller and Mario Chalmers, leaving him virtually alone as if he were back in Cleveland.
Alongside two other superstars, that type of seclusion was never supposed to become a reality, yet it has.
Most have resorted to scolding Bosh and Wade for their various disappearing acts. They were the reason the Miami Heat weren't dominating, the reason South Beach's postseason campaign had become a struggle. They were to blame.
Now it's time for James to join them.
Bosh and Wade are still at fault for their increasingly alarming inconsistencies. Both are averaging career playoff lows in points per game. Bosh hasn't eclipsed 15 points in seven straight contests, and seemingly mediocre 16-point, five-assist performances are somehow interpreted as Wade doing enough when he's not.
That the Indiana Pacers pushed Miami to seven games was the Heat's fault. Their current finals deficit is on them as well. Procuring a second consecutive title isn't possible when they're playing the way they are.
The Heat have finally reached a point where the same goes for James.
Exonerating him of any blame is no longer an option. Heaping amounts of support and sympathy have been thrown his way all postseason, but no more. Much of what has happened to him he's done to himself.
Help isn't on the way—that became clear in the Eastern Conference Finals. Bosh and Wade aren't suddenly going to dominate for games at a time. They'll have their moments, but so will Chalmers, Miller, Ray Allen and Chris Andersen. Knowing that his two most important sidekicks aren't coming to his rescue, James needed to adjust and hasn't.
In Game 3, he shot 7-of-21 from the floor for 15 points and had five assists. He hit on just 2-of-14 field-goal attempts from outside the paint and posted the worst plus/minus differential of his career.
These bouts with irrelevancy aren't anything new either. Game 3 marked the fourth finals game of James' career where he converted on less than 34 percent of his shots. Thus far, he's appeared in 18 finals contests, meaning he's failed to surpass a 34-percent benchmark more than 20 percent of the time.
John Schuhmann of NBA.com tweeted out an alarming stat about James' shooting:
This is the same James who admitted the Spurs forced him into jump shots when they swept his Cleveland Cavaliers in 2007, and it's the same one who vowed to make those jumpers this time around. Only he hasn't.
Through the first three games of the 2013 finals, James is hitting on a ghastly 38.9 percent of his shots and 23.1 percent of his deep balls. And he's been outscored 56-50 by San Antonio's Danny Green.
Not Tim Duncan or Tony Parker or Manu Ginobili—Green.
Nothing against the ever-underrated shooting guard, but are you kidding me?
After LeBron shot 56.5 percent from the field and 40.6 from three-point land during the regular season, the Heat expected more, especially now, when Bosh and Wade are slumping.
James has remained steadfast—stubborn, really—in his decision to play the game his way. His in-game strategies weren't going to be impacted by his teammates' failures. The Heat were going to win with him refusing to yield to the circumstances at hand, with him playing his way.
“Offensively, I attract so much attention that if a guy is open on my team, I will pass the ball,” he told reporters following Miami's Game 1 loss. “I believe our guys will be there to knock those shots down.”
Stop believing, because they won't always be. Then stop believing that the game needs to be played a certain way and that's it. Adjustments need to be made.
Burying those open perimeter looks the Spurs continue to give him is only part of it. Ensuring that he actually takes them is more important.
He attempted just two shots during the first quarter despite playing all 12 minutes. Then he attempted six in the second, only one of which came from inside the paint. He missed his other five attempts.
Next came the third quarter, when James missed his first five shots. Once again, only one of those attempts came from inside the paint.
In the last two-and-a-half minutes of the period, he finally took over, scoring nine straight points on 4-of-4 shooting.
That's the James the Heat need—the aggressive one. Not some passive hot mess who elects to defer and doesn't attack the paint consistently. They need the James who became the first player in NBA history to average at least 25 points, eight rebounds and seven assists on 55 percent or better shooting during the regular season.
Where is that James? The one who wouldn't play the "I've done more and lost" card?
"I've got to play better," James concluded following Game 3, according to Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski.
Damn right he does. He needs to score, shoot better and remain a continuous force on the offensive end immediately. That never should have been a question leading in, and it sure as hell shouldn't be one now. With the majority of his supporting cast reducing themselves to maybes, James needed to take over. Just like he did during the closing minutes of the third quarter.
"I can't have a performance like that and expect to win the game," James admitted after Game 3. "I've got to do more, it's that's simple. I've got to do more."
Credit James for owning up to his shortcomings, for conceding to the unforeseen reality at hand. But blame him for taking so long to break through the barriers of his self-made illusion that aided in putting the Heat at the mercy of the Spurs and in a position where he must hope it isn't too late to change course.
*All stats were compiled from Basketball-Reference.com and NBA.com (subscription required) unless otherwise attributed.
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