The way the Cleveland Cavaliers lost Game 1 of the NBA Finals is going to haunt them throughout this entire series. Yesterday, we received further proof of this.
Raw footage was released showing J.R. Smith‘s still-inexplicable decision to dribble out the clock after rebounding George Hill‘s missed free throw in the final seconds of a tie game. It shows us an unimpeded look at the Cavs bench, specifically how Smith, Hill and LeBron James reacted to what unfolded.
The release of this footage has led some to question James’ leadership skills, especially due to his animated response when being told Cleveland still had a timeout. Some believe he should be criticized for not trying to rally his team in such a tough situation.
To be blunt, such accusations are laughable and borderline stupid. If you’ve watched a minute of this postseason, you’d realize how clueless you would be to question James’ leadership.
First, to call him out for not leading a pep rally after three devastating moments occurring in the span of four seconds is bad enough as it is. Everyone watching those events occur was just as perplexed as James was. He just happened to have his reaction filmed.
Consider, though, how he could’ve reacted to this moment.
What if he were filmed screaming at Smith? Or calling out Hill for missing a free throw? Or getting in Lue’s face for not calling a time out? Would any one of these reactions be better than his expressing disappointment and taking what time he had available to process everything?
Yes, in the grand scheme of things, the response we see from him isn’t encouraging. To see it as evidence James’ leadership should be doubted, though, is hilariously off-base. This is due to the simple fact we’ve already seen enough proof proving otherwise.
We’re talking about a player who finished the game in question with 51 points. He had put his team – which is being referred by many as the worst he’s ever taken to the Finals – in a position to steal a game on the Golden State Warriors‘ home court. He did so despite this being his first contest since playing all 48 minutes in Cleveland’s Game 7 elimination of the Boston Celtics.
James has averaged no less than 41.1 minutes per game in each series this postseason. In 20 playoff games this year, he’s only logged less than 40 minutes just six times.
Despite being told his team stands zero chance, that his supporting cast is – in no uncertain terms – trash, James has continued giving everything he has. He’s yet to look disengaged, uninterested or appearing as though he’s already cutting ties with the Cavs. He’s topped 40 points eight different times this postseason alone.
Simply put, if James doesn’t believe it’s worth it to even try winning a championship with this supporting cast, we sure haven’t seen any indication of it.
But he struggled to keep his cool when being told his coach failed to call a timeout in the waning seconds of Game 1. After Hill missed a go-ahead free throw. After Smith forgot the score and dribbled out the clock. After an amazing chance to steal a crucial victory at Golden State went to waste.
Again, James could’ve gone on a sideline tirade. This could’ve occurred after months of half-ass basketball knowing this roster might not be good enough to give the Warriors a fight.
Instead, he just looked upset and exasperated. For some reason, people want us to believe this means he’s not a team player.
James’ reaction doesn’t indicate he’s a poor leader. It indicates he’s human. While this is understandably difficult to remember at times, it sure as hell doesn’t open a debate on whether or not James should be accused of being a bad teammate.