LeBron James closed the game out.
For one game, all of his ghosts went on vacation. There was no choking, no hesitation, only finishing. Only slashing to the crowded lane and dropping dramatic layins. Only splashing clutch jumpers and threes with Durant in his face.
It’s not that Durant made mistakes. He delivered his steady 20+ scoring performance. But LeBron, with great help from Wade and Bosh, put this one away. Both teams are strong, so it’s not likely one team will make a ton of costly mistakes. The world champion will be the team that wants it more. It’s a sports cliché of course, but in this evenly matched series it rings particularly true.
Of course, if the Heat go on to lose the next three straight games, LeBron will receive all of the blame. His critics will package this series into the well-entrenched narrative that says LeBron can’t perform when the stage is the brightest. He will be called an anti-Jordan. His tremendous first three Finals games will be forgotten. Such is the burden of having carried the ‘best player on the planet moniker’ for so long and at such an early age.
Durant gets a free pass. He’s only 23. He’s never been here before. He’s expected to get here about 15 more times. When he begins to fail on the personal narrative we’ve projected on him, then he will start taking the heat. But until then, he can enjoy the honeymoon period of being just happy to be here.
LeBron needs this series. His legacy already depends on it. In game three, he played with urgency, and did not shy away from taking control. Last year, LeBron visibly deferred to Wade. But this season, there seem to be no awkward chemistry issues. Those guys seem tight, and both seem to understand that this is now clearly LeBron’s team.
If LeBron and Wade had won last year, it would have been a shared title. If the Heat win this year, this one belongs solely to LeBron. A title this year erases LeBron’s ‘potential’ and grounds the rest of his career in the present tense. That is a narrative that I can’t wait to watch. If LeBron can win two more games, it also sets the stage for a Durant/LeBron rivalry. Right now, Durant has no one to chase except his own precocious potential. The NBA needs a manhunt. They need blood in the water. Michael had the Pistons. A LeBron ring this year turns the Big Bad Heat into an even more provocative storyline than their much-ballyhooed ‘Big Three Era’ announcement ceremony established.
Somewhere, Kobe is locked in a gym, sending nasty texts to management to buy him Dwight Howard and make the Lakers relevant again.
Game Three proved to be another entertaining, down to the wire display of Finals basketball. The league and its fans could do with this kind of thing for the next decade.
The rest of the NBA needs to start scheming immediately to get back on the radar. One of these two superstars will leave this series extremely unsatisfied, and that does not bode well for the competitive balance of their conference.
Hey Kevin, the spotlight is yours for the taking in game four.Tweet