CLEVELAND -- A voice of exasperation called out from the lower end zone seats, the fan's voice a mix of desperation, disgust and disbelief.
"Come on LeBron! What are you doing?"
That fan's shout out came with 9.7 seconds left in Cleveland's 89-84 loss to the Washington Wizards on Tuesday night after James had passed up an opportunity to go for a game-tying 3-point shot, instead feeding the ball inside to Anderson Varejao, who was stripped of the ball by Gilbert Arenas to end the Cavs' last chance.
Cleveland probably shouldn't have even had that chance, but seldom-used Billy Thomas, the Wizards' third option on their inbounds play with 19.6 seconds left, was fouled and missed a pair from the line to give the Cavs a chance to tie it with a 3.
"I was asking myself if I had made the biggest blunder of all time," by inserting Thomas, said Washington coach Eddie Jordan.
But a bigger blunder was in store.
James grabbed the rebound, his ninth (he poked fun at himself afterward, noting that he almost had another triple-double, a dubious one, with 26 points, nine rebounds and 10 turnovers) and charged upcourt, making a snap decision to thread the ball inside to Varejao after two Wizards defenders moved into position to trap him near the top of the arc.
It happened so fast, it almost seemed James never even thought of shooting a 3 and going for the tie.
So what exactly were you thinking, LeBron?
"It was a situation where we got up the court fast enough to get a quick two. They doubled me, and Anderson broke loose. So I was guessing if we get the quick two, we're only down one and they've still got to make two free throws -- and that's right after they just missed two."
The decision will go down as the mistake of the game for James in a game in which there were many, many more. He had a blown breakaway dunk, a succession of bad passes into traffic that were picked off, a missed technical free throw, and too many offensive possessions that he ended with jump shots rather than driving to the basket ... a result, no doubt, of the consecutive charging fouls he was called for during the third quarter.
"After he got his fourth foul, we said it in the huddle ... he's going to be taking jump shots, so get a hand in his face," Arenas said.
James also was never the same after Washington center Brendan Haywood laid a hard foul on him late in the first quarter, catching James with a forearm across the neck after he had scored nine of the Cavs' first 19 points. James had only two points in the second quarter and four in the third period before shooting 2-for-10 in the fourth.
Aside from being much more physical with James, the Wizards ditched their Game 1 strategy of sending a second defender at him. That forced him to create his offense in one-on-one matchups, usually against Jared Jeffries or Caron Butler, which was a major reason why he finished with only two assists after going for 11 three days earlier.
As a passer, James beat the Wizards in Game 1. As a shooter, he couldn't beat them in Game 2. So expect to see many of the same defensive strategies when the series resumes Friday night at Washington, and expect the rough stuff to keep coming until James can show he's hardened enough to overcome it.
"We're gong to hug him and kiss him and show him the way to the basket. He's a terrific guy, we love him," Jordan said in jest before turning serious.
"We're not going to do anything flagrant. We're not the toughest team in the NBA, we're not very physical, but tonight we brought it out," Jordan said. "We're not going to flagrantly foul anyone on purpose, it's just going to be good sportsmanship hard fouls."