(animated orchestral music) – LeBron James is one ofthe best NBA players ever, and he has validated his excellence by winning a whole lot.
There's a good chance James will retire having played more playoff games than these career leaders, and of course, several of LeBron's playoff runs have ended in a championship.
But before the rings, there were times when people questioned whether LeBron would ever lead his team to a title.
And one playoff failure in particular sticks out among the othersas a moment in which LeBron was perceived as not just losing, but shrinking, choking, even quitting and doing so at a time when critics were eager to see him fail.
This is LeBron James'worst playoff performance.
June 7th, 2011, Dallamus, Texamus.
LeBron and the MiamiHeat led the NBA Finals two wins to one afterwinning Game Three in Dallas just two nights prior.
LeBron assisted the basketthat made the difference in the final minute of Game Three, but he did give Dallas one more chance by bricking a three in the closing seconds of a merely okay individual outing.
In general, LeBron had beenrelatively quiet in the Finals, opting to play second or third fiddle and distribute the ball whilethe other Big Three gents, especially Dwayne Wade, handled most of the scoring.
But so far so good.
And if LeBron and companycould grab another road win in Game Four to make the series three-one, they'd have two chances toclinch the whole thing at home, winning LeBron his firstever NBA Championship.
People would probablystill grumble about LeBron needing help to finally win a ring.
After he started this Game Four with a forced air ballfloater and a bricked three, he took to just dumping the ball off even against single coverageby a smaller player.
That led to nice assists to Bosh and Wade who both had great first halves.
So let those people grumble.
You don't win the NBA Finals by yourself.
LeBron knows, he tried once.
It went poorly.
Any investigation ofLeBron's worst playoff games must pause at his firsttrip to the Finals.
That was with the '07 Cavaliers, a team whose next best player was, I don't know, Zydrunas Ilgauskas? Larry Hughes was theonly Cav besides LeBron who even approached reliable scoring.
James put the whole team on his back in that '07 playoff run.
It was incredible and gave ussome legendary LeBron scenes.
But in June, his back carried more weight than it could bear.
LeBron's first career Finals game was probably his worst playoff performance up to that point, a four-of-16, six-turnover outing, and aGame One loss to the Spurs.
Are you okay over there? LeBron attacked but got gobbledup by a San Antonio defense focused on stopping him and him alone.
James said afterward, he wouldsimply have to play better for Cleveland to have a chance.
They did not have a chance.
They got swept.
So you can appreciateLeBron's relative comfort deferring to his costars in 2011.
It felt good to have costars.
James finished the firsthalf of this Game Four with just four pointson one-of-four shooting with two turnovers.
But Wade and Bosh were cooking, and the Heat had atwo-point halftime lead.
Lead or not, James might have been wary of swinging too far in thedirection of deference.
Just a year before this inLeBron's final home game of his first stint inCleveland, he got booed.
That was Game Five of the 2010Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Celtics.
James started that gamemissing his first seven shots.
Discouraged and nursing a sore elbow, he kind of curled into a ballagainst Boston's defense, looking very unlike himself.
LeBron stopped attacking.
He seemed resigned to loss andreluctant to lead a comeback.
He finished with 15 pointson three-of-14 shooting in the loss.
And as his hometown fansbooed, all anyone could do was anticipate a departure, a departure that, of course, ended up coming to pass and put LeBron amongtwo elite new teammates, put him on a damn stage predicting how many rings they'd win, thenput him back in the Finals.
So a year later, you could feel the narrative forces at play.
LeBron tried to be ahero and failed in 2007.
He got passive and failed in 2010.
Even if he succeeded in2011, he'd get criticized for doing so in the comfortof other superstars.
That wouldn't have been fair, but it's a preferable outcometo what actually happened, which was more failure.
LeBron asserted himself a bit more in the second half to get decent looks against Dallas'sincreasingly zoney defense, and he just whiffed them.
He sealed off Shawn Marionnicely and blew the finish.
– [Announcer] Chandler, it'sgonna roll out of bounds.
– [Seth] He outran the Mavs in transition and blew the finish.
He caught and fired a wideopen three and blew it.
He earned a couple freethrows and blew both of them.
He found a pull-up lookout of the pick and roll and blew it.
In the fourth, the scores started to reflect LeBron's struggles.
Miami led by as much as nine, but James helped Dallas get back into it by traveling and forcinga bad pass to Bosh, then chucking a tough brickover DeShawn Stevenson.
Miami surrendered theirlead, then struggled to get a clean look ontheir final possession.
– Miller puts it up, air ball!(crowd cheering) And that's it! – They lost Game Four, squandering a crucial chance to pull way ahead in the series.
While Bosh and Wade's numbersheld up fine in defeat, LeBron's were sad.
He attempted just 11shots and hit only three four eight points.
He grabbed nine boardsand tossed seven assists but turned the ball over four times and committed four fouls, a horrid line.
But not his worst evergoing purely off statistics.
Basketball Reference, thebest website on Earth, uses a helpful metric called game score.
It's not an end all, beall, but for this exercise, it's a helpful summary.
LeBron has remarkably few inefficient or even below averageplayoff games in his career, but one has the lowest game score by far.
It's this stinker of a GameOne against Boston in 2008, two-of-18 shooting, 12 points, more turnovers than assists, bad.
But context matters.
That opponent was thefirst and best version of the Big Three Celtics, the eventual NBA Champions.
And LeBron would go on toplay a couple great games in that series, including45 points to nearly lead this weak Cleveland rosterto a Game Seven victory.
As for the context of this 2011 dud, well, we've mentioned thatLeBron was already taking shit for forming a super team or whatever, and that blowing Game Four, a collapse for which LeBron became the easy scapegoat, made the critical difference between a three-one serieslead and a two-two tie.
We haven't mentioned that after the game, noted pest DeShawn Stevensoncould legitimately say LeBron checked out on his teammates.
We haven't mentionedthat before Game Four, Dallas's Jason Terry gave Miamisome bulletin board material saying LeBron needed toshow he could perform well for seven games, that he'd doneit for Games One and Three, but could he do it in Game Four? And, you know, he couldn't.
Jason Terry of allpeople, came at the King and the King responded by laying an egg.
Terry even cooked LeBronon more than one occasion in the fourth quarter.
Then he exploded for48 points off the bench across Games Five and Six and got to do his stupid jet plane celebration a bunch.
Which leads us to theultimate context for this, the Heat went on tolose the series in six.
LeBron's turd of a Game Foursparked Miami's downfall from likely champion to runner-up.
So here at the time was a guy who couldn't get Cleveland a ring, joined up with his buddiesand still couldn't get a ring because he sputtered in a pivotal game.
He made Jason Terry look cool.
Jason Terry, the guy who alreadyhad the championship trophy tattooed on his arm.
But there's more.
After Dallas won it all, critics focused on LeBron's stark statisticaldrop-off in the series, especially the superdiminished scoring numbers.
And they remembered that day LeBron spent counting his future rings.
– Not two, not three, not four, not five, not six, not seven!(crowd cheering) – [Seth] In response, LeBron got kind of spiteful.
– All the people that wasrooting on me to fail, at the end of the day, theygotta wake up tomorrow, have the same life that theyhad before they woke up today.
– [Seth] Not a great look, but look how far we've come since.
That ugly summer motivated LeBron.
He won a ring and FinalsMVP one year later and a year after that, andthen just for good measure, he returned to Clevelandand did it there, too.
You can find occasional substandard nights and criticism in between therings but nothing like 2011.
This game was a deep, dark valley, though, with plenty of peaks to follow.
Nothing before or since quite matched the humiliation of that Game Four, and LeBron himselfrecommends putting it on if you want to lull your baby to sleep.
But at the time, thiswas no laughing matter for LeBron James.
It was ghastly blend ofpassivity and excess.
It was failure in themost critical of moments.
It was the most delicious possible fodder for all kinds of hungry haters.
It was, thankfully for LeBron, not a sign of things to come.
It was a dismal performancein a dismal game in a dismal series thatheadlined a dismal summer.
It was the worst.