After dominating the playoffs through the first 10 games and leading the Cavaliers to a perfect 10-0 record in that span, LeBron James hit a speed bump in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Boston Celtics.
En route to a 111-108 loss to the shorthanded Celtics, James had a rare off-game, scoring 11 points on 4-of-13 shooting to go along with six rebounds, six assists and six turnovers.
He didn’t score a single point in the fourth quarter, going just 0-for-2 as he seemed to lack aggressiveness on the offensive end.
Teammate J.R. Smith noticed LeBron’s unwillingness to take the rock to the hole and took issue with it.
"He's got to be aggressive, get downhill, play like he's been playing, play confident. That’s what I always think, when people of his stature or people like him, you've got to play confident the whole night and play aggressive. It's the Eastern Conference finals. It's not enough for him. For what he does, what he brings, it's not enough. He knows that. We know that. Just expect him to be better in Game 4.”
As Dave McMenamin of ESPN noted, in the final 16:31 of Game 3, James had zero points on 0-for-4 shooting with just two turnovers, one rebound and one assist. LeBron doesn’t put up numbers like that very often.
When asked if confidence was a factor in James’ struggles, Smith answered as only J.R. Smith could:
"I don't know," Smith said. "I mean, I never have that problem. I've been confident every time I've stepped on the court, whether I'm falling out of bounds or shooting a free throw, confidence is something I never lack. That's my job as his teammate and as his friend is making sure he stays confident in what he does, and you know, just trying to get him out of it.”
While Smith’s words were slightly demanding of his teammate, coach Tyronn Lue didn’t make much of LeBron’s plebeian numbers.
"No blame," Lue told reporters. "We're all to blame. We lost; it happens. For a guy who played great for five straight months, he's got to have a bad game sooner or later. He's human. He didn't shoot the ball well. It wasn't his ordinary game. But Kevin (Love) and Kyrie (Irving) had it going early and they played well, so it kind of got him out of rhythm a little bit in that first half. That's no excuse. Like I said, they played well, but we've just got to play better, be more physical.”
Despite losing All-Star and All-NBA point guard Isaiah Thomas for the remainder of the playoffs, the Celtics made this series interesting by pulling off a miraculous comeback in Game 3, largely in part to James’ struggles.
In front of his home crowd in Game 4 on Tuesday, expect King James to prove exactly why he’s considered to be basketball royalty as Game 3 will likely end up being an aberration.