Where is real James?

STEELE PRESS

The Kickoff

May 23, 2007|By DAVID STEELE

This guy wearing No. 23 for the Cleveland Cavaliers on Monday night - where did they get him from? And why did they get rid of the guy who wore that jersey in last year's playoffs?

To watch LeBron James not even think about taking that shot in the final seconds of Game 1 of the Eastern finals against the Detroit Pistons on Monday night - to make his move down the lane, drive past Tayshaun Prince, have at least a full step on any and every other Pistons defender, get right under the basket, and then kick it 25 feet to the corner so Donyell Marshall can try a game-winning three - is to wonder if the LeBron from the 2006 first-round series against the Washington Wizards and the second-round series against these same Pistons had been kidnapped.

With all the moaning and groaning yesterday morning about LeBron a lot of people seem to be forgetting that he was the exact opposite last spring.

Specifically, against the Wizards in games 3, 5 and 6. Game 3: had the audacity to take about three giant steps and a couple of baby steps through the lane for the game-winning shot. Game 5: faced up his defender on the left side and just blasted past him down the baseline for the game-winning layup. Game 6: drew every defender to him at the top of the key, then found a wide-open Damon Jones for the game-winning jumper.

Where was that LeBron last night? Hardly ever went to the basket. Didn't attempt a free throw. Didn't take a three-pointer. Took all of 15 shots. Suddenly started channeling Dirk Nowitzki, or Vince Carter, or Karl Malone or Chris Webber. Anybody but me. Falling back on the "It's a team game" crutch.

No, it's a "best players" game. It becomes a team game when everybody on the roster, the trainers, the towel boys and a couple of beer vendors have to rush toward you on every move you make with the ball, at which point you turn it into a team game and pass to Damon Jones or Donyell Marshall.

The Pistons completely blew the defense on that play, in about 10 different ways. And LeBron didn't make them pay for it.

Sometime in the past week or so, he stopped being the guy who had been making teams pay for such gross errors. That really was weird, and if Cleveland wants to get to the Finals, he'd better get back to being that guy again.

david.steele@baltsun.com

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