January 12, 2011; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Miami Heat small forward LeBron James (6) tosses up powder before playing against the Los Angeles Clippers at the Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-US PRESSWIRE

Crunch Time & Clutch: A LeBron James Piece

Crunch Time

Basketball is a game of runs and the game is played in 4-minute spans, which is why the final 4 minutes of a game is the legitimate  crunch time. Teams with the lead often close out their opponents in this window of opportunity and it gets overlooked because it didn’t come down to the final minute or the last shot.

For example, the Philadelphia 76ers were hanging in the standings with the Miami Heat and Chicago Bulls at the all-star break. The 76ers are a team that struggled in the final 4 minutes all season long. Although Andre Iguodala stepped up his offensively in the postseason, the lack of a true closer was the biggest reason Philadelphia slid down to the eight seed.

On the contrary, Miami and Chicago escalated their level of play. The Bulls more-so in collective fashion with Derrick Rose missing half the season, and the Heat executed and finished with “hero ball.”

A little reality check. Steve Nash is the only player in the NBA that should be considered a clutch free throw shooter. Yes, there are plenty of high-percentage shooters and superstars that can get the job done, but they all miss in crucial moments and the perception is heavily tainted.

Dwyane Wade gets the credit while LeBron James is ridiculed for everything he does. This goes beyond the missed free throws against Boston the other night, but Wade is just as guilty as anybody else for missing big shots. Not to single out Wade because he is great and a closer, the Kobe Bryant’s  of the world are just as guilty.

Jul 25, 2008; Las Vegas, NV, USA: USA Mens team watch the final seconds against Canada at the Thomas and Mack Center. Players l-r LeBron James (in blue) Dwyane Wade (9) Carmelo Anthon (15) Chris Bosh (12) Dwight Howard (11) Kobe Bryant (10) and coach Mike Krzyzewski (right). Mandatory Credit: Marlene Karas-US PRESSWIRE

Clutch

These are the daggers, such as Michael Jordan passing to John Paxon or Steve Kerr for the win. Or Shaq making a cross-court pass to Robert Horry aka “big Shot Rob.” And more famously, the one-on-one finishes by Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony, Derrick Rose, etc.

When you take off the blinders, you realize the success rate of the best closers in the game is comparable to a baseball batting average (2-3 hits out of 10 plate appearances). Kobe Bryant and Carmelo Anthony have earned their reputations for drilling game-winners. The recent argument against LeBron James is that he won’t even take the shot. Well, he was the man in Cleveland and he closed the deal on several occasions. Also, it takes more than the willingness to shoot the final shot of a game with the outcome on the line. However you can put the ball in the hoop, score and you’re celebrated.

LeBron James

The man is an easy target to criticize: “The Decision”, “The Chosen One,” “King James,”  he has the nicknames, tattoos, and the hype to take the heat (pun).

But let’s get real and keep it simple. No one in the world, let alone the National Basketball Association, is doing what this stud does on the regular. This guy prepares every offseason and it shows, with his tip-top condition and he doesn’t miss games like most players do (even stars).

Night in and night out, not only does he allocate minutes, he is the focal point. In his 9th season, he’s playing heavy minutes and performing at the highest possible level. This year he’s averaging 27 points, 8 rebounds, 6 assists, and 2 steals. In his career he’s posted an average of 27 points, 7 rebounds, 7 assists, and 1.7 steals.

I’m afraid that his greatness is overshadowed by glory ball. I love Kobe’s game and he’s another future Hall of Famer without question. Michael Jordan is my favorite player like many basketball fans, possibly yourself. But in reflection, James makes the correct basketball play 99.9% of the time. For someone so athletic, he pivots and utilizes the jump stop. Right now the skeptic is thinking about his crab walks and travels, so I’ll point you towards any player on a basketball court because they all do it. When you played hoops you learned what you could get away with, and you still do those things when you play pick-up games. I never complained when a ref called a foul for me when I didn’t get touched, but you can put all the calls on the NBA and officiating not the players.

This guy plays hard, posting video game numbers and highlights. He can do anything on the court on both sides of the ball. He will always be superior with his talent and versatile abilities on the floor: speed, quickness, athleticism, strength, ball-handling, dribbling, passing, etc. He defends every position and can slide over to any position, he’s just a great basketball player.

He sticks the knife in you as good as anyone in the game today. Not to call out other players, but Chris Paul fades away in crucial moments. He gets the recognition when he steps up to the plate and hits from the elbows and top of the key, but people aren’t quick to get on CP3. You have to love how CP3 plays, and he will be the first one to tell you when he doesn’t do what he expects from himself. Much like Wade, who finally got some more blame than usual.

How to Become “King James”

I’m with you, he could do more and he needs to. Of course, winning a championship is at the top of the list. The first ring is the toughest, but after that  the priority will be multiple titles. Titles and carving his name in the history books with records will measure how he finishes his career from here on out. I will say, he needs to take his first-team defensive selections, and raise them to win the Defensive Player of the Year award before he retires and calls it a day.

Wade has taken a big brother approach, and has become more assertive while James is the workhorse. Not saying that Wade isn’t capable, because we’ve seen him do it for years, but they developed a tight bond and one vision.

For his name and legacy, it’s nice that he can hit Udonis Haslem on a pick and roll or hit Mario Chalmers in the corner to win  a game, and that’s great. But he will need to be selfish and put the nail in the coffin as time expires. Apparently his Cleveland days have been dismissed, along with his accomplishments, but that is the luxury of playing in Miami with a Dwyane Wade. He doesn’t have to be the go-to man every single time. These two did this on their own, and Wade even had more help with Shaq when they won it all. James led the Cavaliers with the best record and a finals appearance, almost single-handedly. Carmelo Anthony still hasn’t won a first round playoff series. Kevin Garnett faced the same adversity in Minnesota, before his Boston days.

The crazy thing is the LeBron is still improving. He had his most successful season in the post, and he cut down his 3-point attempts. He should go into the post more and do damage by playing point-forward. In fact, if he’s not running a pick & roll with Wade with the game on the line, he should have the ball in the block. You know he’s going to finish at the rim or draw a foul. Either that, or he’ll draw a double team and being the passer that he is, Wade would have an advantage if he got the pass and attacked the help defense that has to rotate.

Going Awol

I know people are quick to get on Kobe, but enjoy his greatness because he won’t be around forever. The same goes for LeBron, in a media-driven society don’t get distracted with fabricated storylines. Like, love or hate a player, it’s all part of the game. But appreciate and respect someone for what they bring to the table. If you were him, nothing you do no matter what is ever enough. That’s not our concern and responsibility, especially since he’s getting paid a king’s ransom and living the life, I just remember how it felt: working out, plyometrics, running miles, practicing with the team, eating right, playing the game, recovering because you’re tired or sore, trying to stay healthy, improving your weaknesses, building on the strengths. It was a blast, but with the emotions that come with being a player I can’t imagine keeping my cool every second and being on my A-game every play enduring fan treatment and the media frenzy. You know the home life and relationships with your family and peers wouldn’t be exactly the same. Pull yourself away and go awol. Accountability is absolutely reasonable, but it’s different to over-saturate the negativity on a living legend.

If you were a Miami Heat fan before the big three united, you would certainly appreciate this exciting moment.

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Tags: Career Carmelo Anthony Championships Chris Paul Closer Clutch Crunch Time Dwyane Wade Finisher Hall Of Fame Player John Paxon Kobe Bryant Lebron James May 2012 Playoffs Miami Heat Michael Jordan Postseason Regular Season Rings Robert Horry Shaq Steve Kerr Steve Nash

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