In hindsight, after LeBron followed up with a historic playoff run to his first championship, that certainly appears to be the case. And it’s foolish to think King James suddenly developed the mythical clutch gene or the mental toughness required of a playoff hero over the last year.
Never mind all the times he carried the Cavaliers to playoff wins. How about him dominating crunch time in the 2011 Eastern Conference finals against the Chicago Bulls? You think he suddenly got scared of the final five minutes of games in the Finals?
“That’s a complete insult to us,” Mavs owner Mark Cuban said during his Friday morning appearance on ESPN’s First Take.
Or do you think the Mavs’ coaching staff came up with a phenomenal plan and the Dallas players executed it excellently?
“It's amazing how nobody wants to give the Mavs credit for playing some amazing defense last year!!!” Shawn Marion tweeted after listening to some of the talk before last night’s Finals clincher. “We earn that ring!!!”
Reached Friday, Marion said he didn’t need to elaborate on the subject, adding only that his championship ring is really heavy.
Marion, perhaps the most underappreciated defender in the league, earned his ring in large part by giving LeBron precious little room to work. Same goes for DeShawn Stevenson, the defender LeBron saw most often after Marion.
As well as Marion and Stevenson played, they didn’t stop LeBron one-on-one. They thrived with the support of their on-a-string teammates with Tyson Chandler serving as the backbone in a complicated concept designed by Rick Carlisle, Dwane Casey, Monte Mathis and the rest of the Dallas coaching staff.
“Are we in a zone? What type of zone are we in? How are we matching up? What kind of rotations are we in?” Cuban said, describing the thought process James had to go through every time he touched the ball. “Making him think made them pass the ball around the perimeter, which gave us a chance to adjust.
“Now they’re smarter, they’re a better team. They deserved to win this year. But that’s the way we played it. So it wasn’t just LeBron. LeBron actually played it right more often than not. He made the right pass to the right guy, who didn’t make the right play. And that’s exactly what we wanted. We wanted to get the ball out of their hands and into the hands of somebody else.”
If you insist on just chalking James’ ’11 Finals failures up to him choking, feel free to continue ignoring the facts. Just don’t forget to call the Dallas team that defended him so well champions.