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Four Games Against the Boston Celtics

Posted by Neil Paine on May 12, 2010

Here are 4 miserable games by 2 great players vs. the Boston Celtics in the Big Three era:

41:40 3 14 0 4 9 12 1 5 6 7 1 0 3 3 15
38:49 2 18 0 6 8 10 2 7 9 9 1 1 10 4 12
43:21 6 19 0 2 5 6 0 4 4 10 4 0 2 4 17
42:46 7 22 3 9 5 5 1 2 3 1 1 0 4 1 22

The first is LeBron James' game last night. Who are the other 3?

In order: LeBron, Kobe, and Kobe.

Much has been made about how disappointing James' performance was last night, and it certainly was. It was awful. The entire Cavaliers team, save for Shaquille O'Neal, struggled. Criticism of James & the Cavs' play in last night's game is totally deserved.

But two things stand out to me about the reaction to the "LeBacle":

  1. As Henry Abbott wrote about here, there's now a great deal of backlash against James on the basis of one game, one bad performance. People are even saying that this puts the Kobe-LeBron debate to rest. My response to this: look at the stats at the beginning of this post! Have you forgotten how badly Bryant played vs. Boston in the Finals 2 years ago? After those games, especially the elimination game in which the Lakers were whooped 131-92, people were saying that Kobe's legacy was "tarnished forever"... Fast forward a year, and he was an NBA champion again, legacy stronger than ever. I know we have a tendency to be shortsighted and reactionary as a culture, but the same people criticizing LeBron James today have to look no further than Kobe Bryant's history to see that one bad game against a strong defense is hardly enough to ruin someone's legacy.
  2. The critics are also acting as though LeBron missed all those shots in any empty gym. Um, don't you think maybe the Celtics had a little to do with James' nightmare game? Just like they perhaps played a role in Bryant's Finals meltdown in 2008? Or is it just a coincidence that 2 of the greatest players of all time have disappeared in big moments against the same defense?

Anyway, it galls me to see people drawing conclusions about James' character from a weak game vs. the Boston Celtics. It's not the first time he's had a bad game against this defense. He's not the first future Inner-Circle player these Celtics have shut down and embarrassed in a big spot. And a poor performance against them (with his legacy supposedly on the line) didn't stop Kobe Bryant from winning a title just one year later. So why are we jumping to the conclusion that LeBron James is suddenly a weak-willed choker on the basis of last night's game?

159 Responses to “Four Games Against the Boston Celtics”

  1. Keith Ellis Says:

    Another point we've failed to recognize in our zeal of LBJ-adulation. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who himself says LeBron James' talent have been warped by the lack of preparation for the pros, had a longer grey beard than Shaquille did yet he & Magic somehow managed to make it out of the conference semi-finals year after year.

  2. AYC Says:

    Keith, have you actually watched Shaq play this year?! Comparisons to Kareem are meaningless; every player declines at his own rate.

    Meanwhile, Kobe, KG and Dwight Howard all jumped from HS to the pros, so that argument doesn't quite work, does it?

    Finally, Lebron has developed some bad habits, but that is do to BAD COACHING. Comparisons to Magic are silly, when Magic went to an LA team with Kareem in his prime, plus Jamaal Wilkes and Norm Nixon. If you don't think the Lakers would breeze to the title with Bron instead of the sexual predator, you are smoking crack. It's a TEAM game

  3. Neil Paine Says:

    Here's Shaq's career path with Win Shares and PER converted to wins:

    shaq career path

    Check the trendlines -- he's been in decline for years.

  4. nimble Says:

    some incurable Kobe haters still lurking!Go fishing with Hollinger and Lebron.Use WS and PER as bait.

  5. nimble Says:

    Another food for thought;what Kobe might have been statistically if he had stayed and played for an Eastern conference second tier team?Especially in the first 10 years,where he would have been an alpha dog?For entertainment purposes let's throw in the alternate universe where he has not gone through any courtroom drama at his athletics prime?
    Neil this one's for you to ponder.


  6. Keith Ellis Says:

    Kneejerk plea-references to "PER" and "EFF" don't impress anyone with PERspective going further back than the post-shortened-arc era. Simply blaming Shaquille for somehow being "too old" to win another championship with the right supporting cast woefully ignores the experiences of Jabbar and Chamberlain, with whom the PER-heads once compared O'Neal when he was still a hyped-up-item. And let's not forget greybeard Bill Russell won a title in his 36th year, tossing 374 Assists to go with 1500 Rebbies.

    The type of TEAM game that Russ & Wilt exemplified by their Rebounding and Playmaking lies in direct conflict with the do-it-all McGinnis-styled LeBron-a-thon. When the goal is to impress the Hollingers and do Triple-Doubles, Shaq's contributions get squeezed and the overall team effort suffers. It's no coincidence O'Neal's marksmanship went from a career high last year to a a career low in '010 CleveLand.

  7. Neil Paine Says:

    Wilt exemplified the team game, while LeBron doesn't? I like Wilt, but he was obsessed with numbers -- he once turned leading the league in assists into a selfish act! If PER had existed when he was playing, god only knows what would have happened. He would been crunching the numbers at halftime, making sure he didn't drop a hundredth of a point during the 1st half. LeBron, on the other hand, has pass-first instincts at heart. He wants to set up his teammates as much as he wants to score himself -- witness the time he passed up a game-winning attempt to feed Donyell Marshall for a wide-open shot (which Marshall promptly missed).

    That's LeBron's career in a microcosm: Try to be a good teammate and set other guys up, and the media complains he doesn't have a "killer instinct" & isn't ballsy enough to take the final shot... Try to score more, and the media complains he's too hell-bent on going 1-on-5 and "isn't making his teammates better". Either way, he can't win. And for you to suggest that an oft-injured, broken-down 37-year-old Shaq in 2010 is as good as the 2000 version that was one of the most dominant players in NBA history? That's patently absurd. Don't like Win Shares or PER? Fine. By whatever production metric you want, points per game, rebounds per game, whatever, Shaq of the past 3-4 years has been a mere shell of what he used to be.

  8. Anon Says:


    Do they still nail peach baskets to the wall and have a ladder to get the ball out of the basket every time someone scores where you live?

    Shaq isn't "too old"? Don't be ridiculous. I just KNEW you would levy the tired and false "stats people don't watch the games" charge Neil against with your last post, but like I said before it seems the only people that are using them are the ones who aren't really watching the games themselves.

  9. Keith Ellis Says:

    "Don't be ridiculous. I just KNEW you would levy the tired and false 'stats people don't watch the games' charge Neil against with your last post, but like I said before it seems the only people that are using them are the ones who aren't really watching the games themselves."

    Don't recall levelling the charge that you don't watch the games, Neil. Is this how we advance a perspective, by labelling Wilt's ultra-pivot-playmaking strategy that resulted in 130 reg-season Ws in two years, including rings for the team & a 7th-game conference finals loss (neither of which the 127-win Cavs've managed in '09 & '010), somehow selfish?