First there was “The Decision”. Now there’s the “The Celebration”.
In both cases, LeBron James was reviled and vilified.
In “The Decision”, James was overly criticized for the media hoopla that accompanied his leaving the Cavaliers. This time in “The Celebration” James gets flack for “celebrating” after Wade made a three that put the Heat up by 15 points in the fourth quarter of game 2 with seven minutes left to play.
Had the Heat won the game, nobody would have probably noticed the Wade and LeBron exchange after that three. After all, as everyone who watches basketball knows, chest bumps, pounding fists, high fives are all but part of the emotions players show after a great dunk, shot or block. But because it was Lebron James and the team was Miami Heat, coupled with the painful loss, everyone seems to be making a big fuzz about it, how it displayed the James’ and the Heat’s arrogance, the Heat’s lack of focus, or the Heat’s inexperience. Were it some other player or some other team, arrogance would probably be righteous swagger, excitement or just plain intense emotion. Sadly not for the Heat and not for James in particular.
Worse, with that game 2 loss and “The Celebration”, everybody seems to be back to James bashing and Heat second guessing. Collective amnesia seems to be creeping in once again as nobody seems to remember the heroics of James during the Boston and Chicago series. All seem to have forgotten that Miami as a team has shut down opponents in the fourth quarter during their playoff run to the finals. The magnificent fourth quarters are but a distant memory now. All that lingers is “The Celebration” and how James and the Heat blew a fifteen point lead in the fourth quarter.
Make no mistake, LeBron wasn’t at his best in the fourth quarter of game 2. Yes he did take ill-advised shots, and yes he did fail to close out the Mavericks when it mattered most. James simply felt content with making the “big shot” or the “kill shot” rather than efficient offensive execution. For that matter, the whole Heat team played uncharacteristic offense and defense during that fourth quarter stretch, while the Mavericks simply persevered for the eventual victory.
But would this loss diminish and tarnish the Heat as a team and James as a player? The Answer is simple. The Heat and LeBron must respond in the next three games.
With this loss, the echoes of doubt we have heard all year are resonating once again. From being virtually anointed as the champions after a game 1 victory, the Heat’s character and heart are now put in question. For Lebron, where just a couple of weeks ago he was being hailed and compared to Michael Jordan, now all that we hear is “The Celebration” and how it pumped and motivated the Mavericks.
The loss has rekindled the hate for the Heat and James in particular. Now people are saying that the Heat doesn’t have what it takes to win, and that James’ dream of champion ring has ended. What a difference one game makes, from villain to hero, to villain again.
For James and the Heat, while this loss is definitely stings, this loss could not have happened at a better time. The Heat had seemed to be lost in the adulation and praise heaped on them during the playoffs, and this dose of reality of the loss should jolt them to realize that the Dallas is here to play for a championship and will fight, scrap and go toe-toe to claim that trophy. Contrary to popular perception, the Mavericks aren’t just out there to entertain the fans and give the Heat a worthy opponent in the finals. The Mavericks are hungry and the sooner the Heat realize this, the better chance they have of capturing the title.
The Heat must forget the loss but remember the lessons from game 2.
It is time for the Heat to respond as team as they had all year in the face of hardships and criticisms. The Heat have shown through the season, they are galvanized by adversity and there is no better stage to show that resiliency than in the next three games.
For LeBron, there is no better time to silence his critics once more than to perform when and where it matters most. How he responds to this challenge will be his legacy. Is this loss the end of LeBron and the Heat’s championship dreams?Perhaps not, on the contrary this should just be the beginning.