Ray Allen saved LeBron's legacy. Imagine how different it would feel now for LeBron and the Heat as they visit San Antonio tonight for a Finals rematch. Instead, in Game 7, with Spurs coach Gregg Popovich repeatedly motioning for Kawhi Leonard to back off LeBron and dare him to shoot from the perimeter, LeBron made Pop pay by hitting 5 of 10 3s and scoring 37 points. Heat Repeat! Under the circumstances, I thought that was LeBron's greatest game.
Still, despite winning a second championship, the King reacted oddly in late January when the basketball world rushed to crown Durant. LeBron James started sounding threatened by a Durant with zero MVPs and zero rings -- by a Durant he was able to take advantage of in the 2012 Finals because LeBron was in such a comfort zone against a buddy he had trained with and played so much one-on-one against in offseasons.
Lately, LeBron hasn't sounded as if he wants to remain buddies with KD. (TNT's David Aldridge recently reported Durant is now closer to Carmelo Anthony than to LeBron.) Lately, LeBron has sounded more like some up-and-coming Richard Sherman trying to attract attention by attacking the established star, Durant. LeBron has sounded more like the challenger!
LeBron told reporters he could score as much as Durant if he were allowed to take as many shots. (At the All-Star break, Durant had taken 246 more shots.) Durant sarcastically responded: "I'm pretty sure LeBron can do whatever he wants."
After guarding all five positions in L.A. against the Clippers, LeBron told reporters: "That's why I deserve to be defensive player of the year." Huh? What happened to the humble good-guy LeBron we see in the phone commercials?
Then came an even less-humble response to NBA TV that he, LeBron James, will one day belong on pro basketball's Mount Rushmore alongside MJ, Magic and Bird. Wait, over Kareem, Bill Russell and (LeBron's fourth choice for now) Oscar Robertson? Sounded like LeBron was still saying, "Remember me?"
LeBron topped (or bottomed) off his vocal MVP campaign by saying Durant won't feel any pressure to win a championship "until I retire." Ouch, King.
But what you had to love was the way LeBron began backing up his surprising words with stunning deeds. Durant's explosion while Russell Westbrook was out -- especially the 112-95 number KD & Co. did on LeBron's team in Miami on Jan. 29 -- helped create a new monster, Angry LeBron.
I've seen only flashes of this LeBron, when he played for Cleveland, provoked by courtside hecklers (in Toronto and in Atlanta). Then, LeBron took it out on the scoreboard. That's it, LeBron!
At Phoenix three weeks ago, it appeared he was provoked only by Durant's shadow. Without Dwyane Wade, LeBron played possessed in the fourth quarter, scoring 14, refusing to lose.
A night later at Golden State, still without Wade, LeBron faced his old phobia: down two with the clock running out. How many times have I criticized him for opting not to do what he does better than any human: attack the basket!
But of course, driving the ball greatly increases the risk of getting fouled and having to stand alone with no time left and having to make two free throws to force overtime. Under pressure, LeBron can be a shaky free throw shooter. So, often he has settled for a deep 3 with a built-in excuse. Well, it was a tough shot.