EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

February 14, 2011

Crunch time isn't LeBron's time

On Pro Basketball
Michael Muldoon

BOSTON — If an NBA game were 47 minutes long, LeBron James might be the best the sport has ever seen.

But the Miami Heat forward certainly hasn't earned a reputation as Mr. Clutch.

Yesterday afternoon in a nationally-televised showdown between the East's (and perhaps the NBA's) top two teams, James was his typical superstar self until it mattered most.

He clanged the first free throw with 12.5 seconds left and the Heat trailing by 2. Then when the visitors got the ball back, he passed up an open 3-pointer to let Mike Miller try to be the hero. His 3 wouldn't fall and Boston held on for an 85-82 win.

It was a huge win for the C's, who had lost three of their previous four games while the streaking Heat had won eight straight.

Injury-ravaged Boston had blown a 13-point fourth-quarter lead but LeBron couldn't deliver the knockout punch.

Again.

This was his sixth straight loss to the C's (three with Cleveland, three with the Heat).

LeBron's extraordinary talents can't be questioned, but his heart? Until he wins the big one, the 26-year-old, eighth-year pro will have his critics.

Without Shaquille O'Neal, Jermaine O'Neal, Semih Erden, Marquise Daniels, Delonte West and Nate Robinson (he was pulled early due to injury), the Green were reportedly holding open tryouts at halftime for a roster spot.

Plus, a battered and bruised Paul Pierce (foot and hand injuries) was brutal, missing all 10 of his shots and scoring just one point, his lowest output in a game since 1999.

And King James still couldn't deliver a win!

Furthermore, Rajon Rondo spent a lot of time covering James, who will likely win his third straight MVP award this spring. That's 6-8, 250 vs. 6-1, 178. Any true competitor takes that challenge and posts him up at will.

In the final seconds of the first half, LeBron was palming the ball like a grapefruit while Rondo dug his head into James' ribs.

It just screamed out pretty boy vs. warrior.

"It was Rondo's idea," said coach Doc Rivers.

But Rondo vs. LeBron? That's like having a kicker block Ray Lewis.

"That matchup made no sense," admitted Rivers. "But it gave us life."

Still, the heavyweight champ of the world vs. a middleweight is a dangerous proposition.

Rivers said defensive guru Lawrence Frank told him, "We can't do this."

Desperate times call for desperate measures. And with the Celtics reeling and LeBron and Co. on fire, this one had the makings of a blowout. Miami was favored by 2.5 points and were I a gambler, I would have bet the house on the Heat.

"I thought Rondo just willed us the game," Rivers said. "Rondo just took it upon himself that whoever was bringing the ball up he was going to guard and harass. And I thought that changed the game for us."

That and LeBron's puzzling inability to finish off a wounded foe.

E-mail Michael Muldoon at mmuldoon@eagletribune.com.

Celtics 6, LeBron 0

LeBron James' last six games vs. the Celtics:

Yesterday: Celtics 85, Heat 82 — Trailing by 2 points with 12.5 seconds left, he missed the first free throw. On the final possession, he passed up an open potential game-tying shot.

Nov 11: Celtics 112, Heat 107 — Had a near triple-double but had a late 3-pointer hit (gulp) the side of the backboard.

Oct. 26: Celtics 88, Heat 80 — In the highly-anticipated season opener, he and Miami's much-ballyhooed Big 3 fell and LeBron committed eight turnovers.

May 13: Celtics 94, Cavs 85 — In the close-out game in the Eastern Conference semifinals, he put up big numbers for Cleveland but had nine turnovers and stunningly quit during crunch time.

May 11: Celtics 120, Cavs 88 — Shot 3 of 14 in Game 5.

May 9: Celtics 97, Cavs 87 — In Game 4, committed 7 turnovers, shot just 7 of 18 from the floor including 0 for 5 from deep.