LeBron James passed up a potential game-winning shot against Boston Sunday night in a Game 4 thriller in the final seconds of regulation. Then he fouled out of the game in overtime and the Celtics won, 93-91, to tie the Eastern Conference finals at two games apiece.
I don't blame James for fouling out -- his sixth foul was very questionable (I didn't think it was a foul at all), and he was trying to do something aggressive by posting up when it was called. It was the first time LeBron had fouled out as a member of the Heat.
But I do blame him for not taking the final shot in regulation. It continued James' trend of failing in the final seconds of games too often. He has two blemishes on an otherwise amazing career -- he's never won an NBA title, and he doesn't convert in the final seconds of games enough.
This time, the score was tied at 89-all. James had had a wonderful last minute, hitting a three-pointer to tie the game, then drawing an offensive foul on Kevin Garnett to get the ball back.
He took the ball on the last play, dribbled and drew three Celtic defenders. But none of them were absolutely all over him -- James was near the free-throw line and could have risen for a last shot over everyone.
Instead, LeBron tried an awkward bounce pass to Udonis Haslem, which didn't get there cleanly and left Haslem with no chance but to throw up a 20-foot airball. That forced OT. (Dwyane Wade then had a chance to win the game with LeBron fouled out in the final seconds and got off a good-looking three-pointer, but missed it).
If you're the three-time NBA MVP, as LeBron is, you take the last shot and you miss it, that's fine. Michael Jordan, the player all great ones are still compared to, missed more than two dozen potential game-winning shots in the same situation.
But not to take it at all? You better be passing the ball to a teammate for an open layup. Otherwise, it looks too much like you want the ball out of your hands in the critical moments.
Larry Bird said this year that James was the NBA's best player and that no one else was close. I'd agree with that -- for the first 47 minutes and 40 seconds of every game.
But in those final 20 seconds, LeBron still has his problems. And until he can fix those, that NBA championship he wants so badly is going to continue to elude him.