MIAMI -- Three times in his 10-year career, LeBron James has experienced the unique pressure of a Game 7, and three times he’s delivered performances expected of a player of his stature.
But the difference between winning and losing such a vital game has usually not been about him, but about his teammates.
James’ numbers in Game 7s -- one with the Cleveland Cavaliers in Detroit in 2006 in the conference semifinals, one with the Cavs in Boston in 2008 in the same round and last year against the Celtics in the conference finals in Miami -- are fantastic: 34.3 points and 8.3 rebounds per game on 45 percent shooting.
But two others numbers stick out. James has averaged 6.7 assists in his 130 career playoff games. But in those three Game 7s: just 3.3 assists. Which also has something to do with his record in them: 1-2.
In his first Game 7 with the Cavs, the Pistons held his team to 61 points. Other than James, the rest of that Cavs starting lineup managed just 16 points combined. In his ’08 classic Game 7 duel with Paul Pierce, when both topped 40 points, James had only one other teammate score in double figures. That was Delonte West, who had 15 points.
Last year, the first time James tasted Game 7 success, it was with getting 23 points from Dwyane Wade and 19 from Chris Bosh. Shane Battier made four 3-pointers as well.
The formula to advance for James when the Heat face the Indiana Pacers tonight may come down to that. He may be able to play a great game, he may put up huge scoring numbers, but to be successful, he’s probably going to need help and probably going to need to give his teammates the chance to help.
“If we’re trying to figure that out now, we’re in trouble,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “We have deep playoff runs where we’ve worked that out. We’re a stronger team when everybody is involved.”
Over the last two games, James has averaged 24 shots while Bosh and Wade have averaged just 14 combined, and the Heat have averaged just 84 points. In the first four games of the series, when Wade and Bosh were averaging a combined 26 shots, James averaged 19 and the Heat averaged 101 points.
That’s the tension that is pressing on James and the Heat. He’s expected to dominate a moment like this, but taking too much control could be a poor choice.
“It’s never been like that in team sports history. We can’t just sit around and expect LeBron to do all the work and hope that he has a 50-point game,” Bosh said. “We have to do our part.”
That, of course, is a challenge with both Wade and Bosh struggling. Wade has scored just 20 points total in the last two games and Bosh is in the midst of his biggest scoring slump since his rookie season in 2003-04. James has noticed and he’s been pulling away from them in the last few games.
James sent off some alarm bells after Game 5, which the Heat won, when he compared his team’s current style of play to the way it was when he played in Cleveland. In Cleveland, James never won a Game 7.
“We spent a lot of time trying to get on the same page about it,” Spoelstra said. “They’re big-game guys. The bright lights inspire them more than shrink them. This is why this team was put together.”
The track record says James will deliver a big game. But the track record also says he’ll need help and he’ll need to allow help from his teammates if the Heat are going to beat a strong Pacers team.
“To have one game to advance to the NBA Finals and there's two teams that's in this position, you can't substitute this feeling,” James said. “We should all cherish this moment.”