The Cavaliers Need James To Be Aggressive
There are two ways to look at Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals. 1) The Cavaliers should be encouraged that they were able to compete with the Detroit Pistons, losing 79-76, without LeBron James playing a phenomenal game or 2) James really needs to put his foot on the accelerator and play like a true superstar if the Cavaliers have any chance in this series.
I'll go with No. 2.
I know Tayshaun Prince is a bad mamma jamma on the defensive end, and the Pistons can put the clamps down on anyone. But 10 points? How could James only get 10 points? How could be get outscored by Sasha Pavlovic? He wasn't looking for his shot early, and then he couldn't find it later. He refused to attack the rim, never went to the foul line, and went scoreless the last 6 minutes, 57 seconds of the game.
It's admirable that James plays unselfishly, but he cannot look for Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Donyell Marshall in the final possession. On his last pass to Marshall, James got separation from Prince and Rasheed Wallace wasn't close enough to contest the shot. He appeared to have a clear path to the lane for a layup. Yes, Marshall was open for possible game-winning three-pointer. But James had a layup! Would you rather take a shot from two or 22?
And, it's one thing to get his teammates involved. It's another for James to never attempt to establish himself. This is not the time to pull a Dirk. He cannot disappear. He had just four points in the first half and oddly enough, the Cavaliers had the lead. But you just kept waiting for James to put his imprint on the game. He never did.
He just looked disinterested for most of the night - that exchange where Eric Snow failed to inbound the ball and yelled at him for not moving said it all. The indifference was more confusing considering the game was there to be had. James was the best player on the floor and never tried to take it over.
Unfortunately, James has been able to drift at several points this postseason. The best - and the worst - thing to happen to Cleveland was winning the No. 2 seed, because they had the easiest path to the conference finals, avoiding Detroit, Chicago and Miami. But the Washington Wizards and New Jersey Nets never forced them to break a sweat. The Cavaliers never had a moment of fear and trepidation - outside of James' ankle sprain in Game 1 against the Wizards. Going half-speed could work against a Wizards team that was missing two all-stars. With Vince Carter fighting his own demons in the second round, James never had to really drop a hammer on the Nets.
James got a free ride to this point, but now he has to earn it. James cannot cruise through the Pistons. This is the best team in the Eastern Conference. They have a plan to shut him down and he will make their job that much easier if he refuses to go at them. James has already proven that he's capable of doing it. If this happened last season, it might even be a little acceptable. But now?
Now that Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, Dirk Nowitzki, Dwyane Wade, Shaquille O'Neal, Tracy McGrady, Allen Iverson, Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire are gone, James and Tim Duncan are the last stars remaining. Duncan is a three-time NBA champion and arguably the greatest power forward ever, but he has never wanted to be more than a basketball player. Duncan never embraced the other stuff that came with it. James has made it clear that he wants to be a global icon.
That won't happen if he doesn't get a little selfish. Global icons take the big shots; they take over the big games. The would-be King needs to understand: kings get greedy. Royalty is about reverence, not deference.
In 20 years or so, people won't go down reminiscing about how James passed off to Marshall for a game-winning jumper. That won't make the ESPN Classic marathon for historic NBA playoff games. In his brief playoff career, James made a name for himself for nailing three game-winners against the Wizards and single-handedly pushing the Pistons to seven games.
This season? James has put up impressive numbers, but he's missing a catalog of signature games or memorable highlights. This is his chance to really shine. The Pistons are the better team, but the gap isn't too extreme. James could fill that gap alone. James's buddy Wade showed last season that one man can make a difference in the playoffs - and Wade destroyed a more imposing Detroit team in the conference finals. The NBA doesn't go around giving away championship rings. You have to take them.
You could say that James is only 22, that Michael Jordan didn't win a playoff series until he was 25 or earn his first championship until he was 28, but these opportunities cannot be taken for granted. Nothing is promised in this league. Ask Grant Hill and Penny Hardaway. Ten years ago, didn't you think they'd win a ring?
James may be the future of the league, but he has to realize that the future is now.
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