It's Game 6 of the NBA Finals. The Miami Heat are down 9 points entering the fourth quarter and are 12 minutes away from elimination. It's the time when superstars are made. After all, it had been less than a month ago when the Heat won Game 5 in Chicago on an 18-3 run to win the Eastern Conference finals.
Unfortunately, one-third of The Big 3 - LeBron James - had been playing terribly in the first 5 games of the series. Up until Game 6, LeBron had scored just 11 points total in the 4th quarters of the Finals for an average of 2.2 points per game in that quarter. In the previous three rounds of the playoffs, that average had been 7.6 points. In fact, prior to that point, LeBron was 0-7 when the score was within five points in the last five minutes of the game. The Mavericks' star Dirk Nowitzki, on the other hand, was 8-of-13 for 26 crunch-time points.
Despite his previous performance in the series, you would think that a star like LeBron would be itching to take over the game and send the series into a Game 7. While we all know what the final outcome was, let's take a look back at the possessions LeBron James had in that 4th quarter:
James entered the game with 9:30 seconds left in the 4th quarter and the Mavericks holding an 8-point lead.
Possession #1 - 9:30 left, 85-77 Dallas
Following a Miami timeout, LeBron James enters the game for Eddie House. Dwyane Wade brings the ball up and passes to LeBron James who is at halfcourt. James begins to drive past Jason Terry into the lane, but Tyson Chandler rotates over, and Terry catches up for the doubel team.
James sees Mario Chalmers open on the opposite wing and passes to him, but Chalmers misses the wide open three pointer. Dallas rebounds.
Possession #2 - 8:32 left, 87-77 Dallas
After a Dallas missed shot, LeBron brings the ball up. He is met by Jason Terry at the three point line. After a couple of dribbles, LeBron spins to the left block. Tyson Chandler meets James, who attempts a fade-away shot. James misses badly and Dirk Nowitzki grabs the rebound.
Possession #3 - 8:07 left, 89-77 Dallas
Following a J.J. Barea made layup, the Heat set up their offense. Mario Chalmers passes to LeBron at the top of the key after James curled off of a Udonis Haslem screen. Since Dallas is playing zone, Barea is the only defender in the area, and he picks up James. Upon receiving the pass, however, James immediately swings the ball to Dwyane Wade on the left wing. Wade misses a three-point shot.
Possession #4 - 7:18 left, 91-80 Dallas
LeBron brings the ball up and is met by DeShawn Stevenson on the left wing. After taking a couple of dribbles, James passes to Dwyane Wade at the top of the key. After the pass, James cuts towards the free throw line and Wade passes the ball back. Tyson Chandler and Dirk Nowitzki both show on the help defense, leaving Chris Bosh open on the right block. James passes to Bosh, but Bosh misses the layup. James gets the offensive rebound and makes the putback attempt.
Possession #5 - 6:44 left, 92-82 Dallas
After a Jason Terry missed free throw, Dwyane Wade brings the ball up with LeBron drifting towards the right corner. Udonis Haslem sets a screen on Terry, and James curls around the screen towards the free throw line, where Wade passes him the ball. Dirk Nowitzki is late on the help and James hits the free throw line jumper.
Possession #6 - 5:11 left, 95-87 Dallas
Dwyane Wade brings the ball up and passes to LeBron, who is on the left wing. Jason Kidd is guarding James at the three-point line. On the catch, James sees that Kidd is overplaying him to the baseline side, and starts to drive into the paint. Kidd is able to stay with James, however, and strips the ball out of LeBron's hands as he goes up for a jumper.
After a couple of tips, James recovers the ball, but is falling towards the baseline. He attempts to save it to Haslem but James is whistled out of bounds.
Possession #7 - 4:16 left, 95-87 Dallas
The Mavericks stop a Miami Heat fast-break attempt and Dwyane Wade slows it down to set up the offense. He passes to Chris Bosh who is at the top of the key. Bosh swings it to James, who is on the right wing being guarded by Shawn Marion. James immediately passes to the trailing Mario Chalmers.
While the ball is swung around the perimeter, James stays in the same spot on the right wing. He eventually gets the ball back from Bosh. This time, Jason Terry has rotated out to guard James. Again, James swings the ball to Chalmers at the top of the key. Chalmers drives, but throws the ball away to Dirk Nowitzki for the turnover.
Possession #8 - 1:55 left, 101-89 Dallas
Following a Jason Terry made basket, the Mavericks have their largest lead of the game. Mario Chalmers brings the ball up and passes to James on the right wing, where he is guarded by Jason Kidd. James fakes the drive, Kidd bites, and James makes the step back three-pointer.
Possession #9 - 1:33 left, 101-92 Dallas
LeBron strips Dirk Nowitzki of the ball and quickly dribbles down to the right wing where he is met by Jason Kidd. James pulls up for the three, but he misses, and Dallas gets the rebound.
In the 4th quarter of Game 6, LeBron James went 3-5 for 7 points (1-2 from downtown) with 1 offensive rebound and 1 turnover. Not horrendous numbers. The most shocking number to me, however, is that in what was perhaps the biggest game of his career, the most talented basketball player on the planet only touched the ball on 9-of-23 Heat possessions. Two of his five shots came in desperation time (under 2 minutes left), while for the rest of the quarter, James seemed much more interested in being a facilitator than a scorer.
While each of James' passes can be defended by itself - even the possession where he was guarded by Barea but passed to an open Dwyane Wade - if I'm the Heat, I would much rather have James aggressively attack the basket than have Mario Chalmers take a shot.
James did not choke in the 4th quarter. He had one turnover, but so did Dirk. He shot 60% from the floor. But he certainly did not take over the game and was not the commanding superstar that we expected would show up to these Finals.