By now, you've probably heard about LeBron James' disappearing act in the fourth quarter during the Finals. In today's age of uber-comprehensive media coverage, there's not just one way to capture how little James has contributed in the final frame.
We'll start with the cold, hard numbers. Over at TrueHoop, the ESPN Stats & Info group delivers the goods. They've found that James has scored just 11 points in the fourth quarter in the Finals, which comes to an average of 2.2 points per game in that quarter, down from his average of 7.6 points in the previous three rounds this season. That means he's contributing less than a third of the scoring that he normally did heading into the series against Dallas.
But it gets worse. If we sharpen the focus to just crunch-time (less than five minutes remaining, score within five points), James' numbers fall off a cliff:
Perhaps most startling of all is LeBron James’ crunch-time absence in a series that has seen all five games decided late. When the score has been within five points in the last five minutes, James has yet to score in the series, missing all seven shots. Those numbers contrast sharply with Dirk Nowitzki's 26 crunch-time points on 8-13 shooting, not to mention the 34-point difference in plus-minus.
S & I informs us that James doesn't even have a crunch-time rebound either. It's a stark contrast to what he was doing previously in the playoffs in the clutch, when he shot a hot 15-for-31 (48.4 percent) entering the Finals (NBA average is 39.2 percent in these situations.) His efficiency from the floor had been better than anything we'd seen in years.
Want another stat? ESPN Insider's John Hollinger provides some framework around James' 11 points in 60 fourth-quarter minutes:
That’s a wee bit south of superstar territory. Actually, it’s a wee bit south of Juwan Howard territory -- he averaged 14 points per 60 minutes this season. Every Miami player except Joel Anthony scored at a higher rate.
Don't care for statistics? Well, do you dig pictures? Well, Tom Ziller of SB Nation has just the thing for you. Over at his NBA blog, Ziller put together a fantastic infographic called "LeBron James Every Shot Review" that illustrates, well, every shot James has taken in the Finals. When did he take them? Where did he take them? Did it go in? Go check it out.
Ziller sums it up by comparing James -- not to Howard or Anthony like Hollinger did -- but to [gasp!] Mike Bibby:
So not only is LeBron being less aggressive a scorer in the fourth quarter, and not only is he relying more on jumpers than inside play than in the second and third quarters, not only is he missing most of his shots in fourth ... he's also getting worse altogether as the series rolls on. At this rate, by Game 7 he'll be Mike Bibby. It's a perfect storm of misery.
I don't know who should be more upset, James or his teammates for being the punchline.
If the statistics and the infographic doesn't do anything for you, then you'll certainly enjoy the prose from SI.com's Zach Lowe and John Krolik here at Heat Index.
First, Krolik, who has watched as many games of James as anybody, points out that James has shot 3-for-21 in outside 15 feet in the Heat's three losses. And one particular 3-point shot from James, the one with just under two minutes left, struck a chord.
From the moment that 3-point attempt left James' hand, it had no chance -- the ball looked like it was filled with helium, and veered toward the rim like it hadn't been given a set of directions. It clanged harmlessly off the rim, Jason Kidd made a 3 to put Dallas up two possessions, and it was all downhill from there.
With the score tied, LeBron was given three possessions to give the Heat a 3-2 series lead. By the time they were over, it was all but assured that Miami would have to play two elimination games.
Over at the indispensable Point Forward blog, Lowe combs through James' struggles of recent times and notices that he's still being passive. Especially late in games:
When a Wade/Udonis Haslem pick-and-roll went nowhere with 4:05 left, Wade dished to James on the perimeter, and LeBron tossed a hot-potato pass through a thicket of Dallas arms toward Haslem in the lane. Kidd deflected it. The idea was a decent one, but it was a high-risk pass. And, again, this is LeBron James against Jason Kidd with no screener in the way to muck up his path to the basket.
These were not isolated incidents. James started the game taking long jumpers, and he only began attacking the hoop after Miami coach Erik Spoelstra forced him to by calling for repeated postups. And James still falls into the habit of standing around late in games when Spoelstra calls a Wade-centric pick-and-roll.
Of course, people are having a little fun with James' fourth quarter struggles, too. There's this picture passed along by NBAPlaybook.com's Sebastian Pruiti. And then there's always the Dos Equis guy line that's making the rounds. If James delivers a virtuoso performance in Game 6's fourth quarter, then I guess the joke's on us.