LeBron James has set such an absurd standard in the postseason that his 21.8 points per game average against the Phoenix Suns thus far looks practically pedestrian. He scored 25 points in Sunday’s Game 4 loss, his highest total of the series, but that puts this series in rather unfortunate company. James has had at least one game with 27 or more points in every playoff series of his career except for two: the 2007 NBA Finals against the San Antonio Spurs in which he was swept, and the 2011 Finals against the Dallas Mavericks in which he infamously melted down in an upset loss.
The Lakers might have been able to overcome LeBron’s limited scoring if they were healthy, but near the end of Sunday’s first half, Anthony Davis went down with a strained left groin. Considering the hyperextended right knee he suffered in Game 3, there is a reasonable chance he misses Game 5 entirely. Even with him, the Lakers have rarely been able to put forth an elite half-court offense. Without him? Things have gotten ugly. The Lakers scored only 15 points in the third quarter of Game 4. From Feb. 14 through March 18, the period they played with a healthy James but no Davis, the Lakers ranked 15th in the NBA in offense. That’s not going to be good enough to beat an opponent as good as Phoenix.
That puts the onus on James to step up and take on a greater scoring load in Game 5, and he’s up to the task. “These shoulders are built for a reason,” James said after Game 4. “If there is going to be some more put on them, so be it. Win, lose or draw, I’m ready for the challenge.”
Complicating matters is the high ankle sprain James suffered earlier in the season. James played in only four regular-season games afterward and never topped the 25-point mark in any of them. Against Phoenix, he’s flashed his typical athleticism in spurts, but he’s never been able to display it for a full game. That he’s been guarded largely by possible All-Defensive selection Mikal Bridges hasn’t helped either.
James is 36 years old. He’s now playing without his best teammate on a roster designed to support two stars, not carrying the load when one is out. He’s injured and playing against the team with the second-best record in basketball. His playoff track record is beyond reproach, and it was only a year ago that he quieted critics and demanded his “damn respect” after a sensational title run. But Father Time is undefeated. James has overcome his physical limitations time and time again, but doing so this time would be one of his most impressive feats yet.
But Frank Vogel has seen this movie before. “When I competed against the Miami Heat and either [Dwyane] Wade or [Chris] Bosh was out, and there were more touches for Bron, that wasn’t always necessarily a good thing for my Pacers teams,” the Lakers coach said. In that sense, there could be a silver lining to Davis’ injury. If it gets James going, that could have major benefits for the Lakers. in the later rounds, and Vogel’s Pacers were far stronger defensively than these Suns are.
James once made the Finals without Kevin Love and nearly won them without Kyrie Irving. His 2007 and 2018 Cleveland Cavaliers are two of the weakest rosters ever to reach the Finals. Every time he’s been counted out, he’s managed to find ways to win. If the Lakers are going to escape this series, this time can’t be any different.
Courtesy: CBS Sports