LeBron's performance in Game Five was so inexplicable I've asked some of my fellow writers to elaborate on the latest circulating theories.
Five Theories to Confirm or Debunk:
Tim Legler Theory: The psychological stress has taken a toll on LeBron, and it’s affected all aspects of his game.
Bryan Toporek, Featured Columnist : Don’t buy it. At all. What, the same guy who dropped 49-12-8 on Orlando in Game One last year is suddenly cracking under pressure? The same guy that singlehandedly carried Cleveland past Detroit in 2007 to the NBA Finals suddenly developed a fear of 6’1” Rajon Rondo?
If he’s that psychologically affected by the thought of killing Cleveland’s dreams by leaving, then he’ll stay. The pressure to win a ring is mounting, no doubt, but let’s face it: LeBron’s getting a max contract from any team in the NBA . He’s not killing his free agent hopes like Joe Johnson did.
Kevin Roberts, Featured Columnist: Disagree. This one is a mixed bag, as I’m sure James is affected to a certain degree by the media and the pressure.
But at the same time, not only does he absolutely LOVE every minute of any attention he gets, he also shows no signs of NOT loving it. Just the way the guy grimaces when he’s not actually hurt, his facial expressions when he knows the camera is on him, and the things he says in interviews, he knows people are hanging on every word he says, and he can’t get enough of it.
I’m not saying this is so, but he has the type of ego where he could tank a series just to hear his name being talked about non-stop for 48 hours until his next game.
Chad Ridgeway, Featured Columnist: Agree. Kind of. But I believe the next theory is closely related to this one...
Colin Cowherd Theory: He was testing his supporting cast to see if he wanted to stay here. And they failed miserably.
Bryan Toporek : At first, I dismissed this theory, but having gone back and thought about it… it’s possible. LeBron could be realizing this series that unless he drops 37-12-11, his team won’t win many games. Maybe he’s having flashbacks to that Orlando series, where he averaged 38-8-8 for the series and his team still lost.
Still, I don’t think it’s likely. Why pull that move now, in one of the biggest games in Cavaliers' history? True, it’s the ultimate sink-or-swim moment…but it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that the Cavs revolve around James. If he plays like he did on Tuesday, the Cavs aren’t winning games even if Shaq plays 10 years younger than he really is.
Kevin Roberts: Disagree. It’s not impossible, but it’s a cop-out if it’s true. You don’t not show-up to see if your team can handle it. You put in your end of the deal and then see if they can match your energy and focus to help you win a championship.
What’s the best way to “see” if you can win a championship? By actually trying to do it. If James was testing anyone, he did a fine job of testing his own fans’ patience.
The media is having a free-for-all on this guy right now, and it’s high-time it’s happened.
Chad Ridgeway: Agree. LeBron is a shrewd business man. He looks around and sees Mo Williams, Antawn Jamison, and crew shrinking in the spotlight, and in his mind's eye he sees himself stuck with B-level performers for the rest of his days in Cleveland.
And it hits him. He's sick of carrying these scrubs games after game. He's sick of carrying the state of Ohio. And then his mind's eye flashes to an alternate reality, one where Dwyane Wade is sharing the load, one where they are dominating the world together.
And he sees an escape.
LeBron Apologist Theory: The elbow! It’s the elbow!
Bryan Toporek : Honestly, I buy this one most. LeBron’s gone so out of his way to make the elbow a non-issue–every time it’s brought up, he’s guaranteed to respond with “no excuses” in some form–that it’s gotta be affecting him psychologically, if not physically.
This LeBron quote says it all to me: “But if you’re dribbling up and down the court and you can feel a twinge or you feel it lock up, it’s going to stop you from doing some things that you usually would be able to do. It is what it is and I’ve got to play with it.”
We’re so unused to LeBron looking mortal on a basketball court that we’re grasping for any sort of explanation today. Why downplay this injury? Just because Steve Nash could still shoot with one eye swollen shut? I’m thinking LeBron’s elbow could be affecting his patent aggressiveness more than any of us realize. But I don’t expect to ever hear that from LeBron’s mouth–remember, no excuses.
Kevin Roberts: Disagree. Let’s get one thing straight. I don’t believe in the elbow injury. I don’t discount it actually being an injury that occurred, but I don’t for one second think that this actually is hindering his game.
Is it a valid excuse? Yes. If it were true, could it hamper his game? Yes.
But I’ve seen fakers before, and James is a faker. He’s an actor. He’s a regular Paul Pierce.
People were saying from day one when this injury became known: will James own the injury, or will the injury own James? And even a step further, is this “injury” just a nice little excuse James and the Cavs can fall back on if they don’t succeed?
Until James actually says that the elbow is serious and it’s what it making him look so pedestrian, then we have to look elsewhere to explain away game five.
My rationalization is that the elbow injury is a perceivable EXCUSE , but I don’t buy it.
Chad Ridgeway: Disagree. Everyone is dinged up at this time of year, and seeing Kobe play on a broken finger for the last three years leaves me with even less sympathy for sore elbows.
The only part I agree with is that LeBron hasn't learned to play hurt.
Ric Bucher Theory: LeBron is missing the clutch gene. He doesn’t have the killer instinct that previous greats had.
Bryan Toporek : Disagree. Again, was LeBron missing the clutch gene when he scored 29 of the final 30 points on Detroit in Game Five back in 2007? That’s funny, because it didn’t stop five ESPN analysts from slobbering all over LeBron back then. These theories are revisionist history to a T, except they’re discounting many of his marvelous playoff performances. Was that killer gene missing when LeBron dropped 49-12-8 on the Magic in Game One last year?
Kevin Roberts: Agree. Oh, hell yes, I agree with this.
The only major clutch moments I have seen out of James have been free throws or game-winning or game-tying layups.
I know he had that money shot to beat the Magic last year, but then what? The No. 1 team in the league still ended up losing the series.
Being clutch isn’t about hitting one game-winner a season or one or two huge shots in a series.
It’s about playing on the level of Kobe Bryant or Michael Jordan (reverse order, of course). Even Dwayne Wade has shown more clutch ability than James.
The guy is immensely talented, and the best athlete and talent in the world.
But he’s not a true gamer. It’s almost like he’s just a robot who was made perfectly to play the game, but they forgot to insert a soul and humanize the guy.
Everything about his just seems so planned out and routine, from his horrible photos with his team in 2008-09, to his throwing chalk in the air, to his unoriginal break-away dunks.
He’s an amazing player. But he’s not clutch.
Chad Ridgeway: Agree. He's obviously had incredible playoff performances. But he hasn't exuded the insatiable, borderline psychotic desire to win at all costs of a Jordan, Kobe, or even a Durant.
He's more Shaq than Kobe. Good enough to win on talent alone, but he doesn't dream in 94x50 ft in 48-minute bursts.
LeBron’s Theory: It was just a bad game. That’s all.
Bryan Toporek : Agree. Well, seeing as LeBron knows himself better than I could ever hope, it’s tough to say he’s totally wrong here. And that’s the beauty of LeBron—even after an epic stinkbomb like Game Five, there’s still a great chance he comes out on fire tonight and drops a triple-double.
What’s most disconcerting to me (and should be for Cleveland fans) was his postgame demeanor. Where’s the anger? Where’s the passion? If LeBron’s been counting down the days to the playoffs since last year, as he says he has, then how can he possibly remain so calm when he’s one game away from elimination? He may have mocked Mike Brown’s “rah rah” speech after Game Two, but the fact LeBron appears utterly unconcerned by his team’s effort flies in the face of everything we’ve learned about LeBron in his seven years in the league.
You don’t just “have a bad day” in Game Five in a intense series tied 2-2. Not at home. Not against the Boston Celtics. Not when you’re the supposed best team in the league, with the best record, with homecourt advantage, with the best player “in the world.”
Not when you’re LeBron James.
LeBron, your lack of effort and interest in Game Five was so transparent it has spawned dozens of outrageous theories, and your performance was so inexplicable I would buy any of them.
As you can see, the theory that we agree on the most is that LeBron is missing the killer instinct of previous greats. What do you think?
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