Courtesy of MCT
It was an all too familiar scene for basketball fans at the end of game two of the second-round playoff series between the Miami Heat and Indiana Pacers. Like many of his critics have been saying for more than a year, LeBron James couldn’t handle the pressure of a big time playoff moment. With 54.3 seconds left in the game and the Heat down by one, the league MVP stepped to the free-throw line with a chance to give his team the lead or tie the game, if nothing else. James, a 77 percent free-throw shooter this season, missed both free throws and Miami lost the game, 78-75.
This only added fuel to the critics’ fire and the questions began to grow in number about James’ ability in crunch time. Can James win the big game? Can he carry a team when it matters the most? Does he crumble under pressure? I admit that these questions all crossed my mind at some point in the hours and days following the game two loss. Game three did nothing to help James’ cause.
Any thought of an angry James showing up to avenge the late game meltdown two nights before was put to rest when the Pacers outscored the Heat by 14 in the third quarter en route to a 94-75 thumping and a 2-1 series lead for Indiana. James scored 22 points, but only six came in the second half when the Pacers thoroughly handled the Heat. Even some Pacers players began to show some doubts of James’ abilities on the big stage. After James missed a free throw due to a technical foul on Indiana, cameras caught Pacers guard Lance Stephenson making the choke signal by placing both hands around his throat. Things did not look promising for James or the Heat.
Much has happened since game three though. Faced with the possibility of falling behind 3-1 in the series, James responded in game four with one of his best games so far this postseason. He fell just shy of a triple-double with 40 points, 18 rebounds, and nine assists to help the Heat even the series 2-2 heading back to Miami.
Game five was no different as James again narrowly missed a triple-double with a 30-point, 10-rebound, eight-assist performance to lead the Heat to a 115-83 victory. They are one win away from eliminating the Pacers and advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals for the second straight year.
There are still plenty of questions yet to be answered though. Will we see the James from games four and five for the rest of this postseason or will his string of inconsistent play continue to plague him? Will he take charge in big moments or shrink like many say he did in the 2011 postseason? Perhaps the biggest question of all: How will James respond on the biggest stage, such as the NBA Finals, if the Heat return again this season?
These questions cannot be answered by spoken words from coaches or teammates, or by basketball columnists’ printed words on a page. There is only one person who can put the questions to rest and he can do it without saying a word.
LeBron, the spotlight’s on you.