After a blazing 10-0 start to the Eastern Conference finals, the Cleveland Cavaliers required a supernova effort from Kyrie Irving in Game 4 to avoid losing two straight at home and heading back to Boston tied 2-2 with the Celtics. It was a remarkably stark turnaround from Games 1 and 2 of the series, when LeBron James picked the No. 1 seed apart, handed the C’s their worst playoff loss in franchise history and led the Cavs to a 2-0 lead that seemed destined for a third straight sweep.
Then, things got weird. After averaging 34.3 points on 56.9 percent shooting to go along with 8.5 rebounds, 7.1 assists, 2.3 steals and 1.5 blocks per game through the first 10 games of the playoffs, LeBron submitted one of his worst playoff performances ever in Game 3, before picking up four first-half fouls for the first time in his career and sitting out the final 6:46 of the second quarter in Game 4.
Reactions ranged from Hey, even superstars can have off nights once in a while to MICHAEL JORDAN NEVER SCORED FEWER THAN 15 POINTS IN A PLAYOFF GAME! Everyone else in between just wondered what was up with LeBron, and Cavs teammate Richard Jefferson spilled the beans after Game 4:
“You have to do things to try and get guys in rhythm, and it’s OK — LeBron’s allowed to not be in rhythm,” Jefferson said on his regular “Was It Something I Said” segment with Fox Sports Ohio. “And it’s so funny, I know he won’t talk about it, so I’ll give my big guy a shot: Deron Williams missed shootaround this morning, because he had like a little bug — just really lethargic, had no energy — and I think that’s what ‘Bron had.
“And sometimes these little bugs can go around, and that’s really why. He was like, dude, when Deron didn’t show up to shootaround, it kind of started clicking in his head, because for him, it was more of like, ‘I don’t know why I was so lethargic, why I had no energy. I had nothing.’
“So, these little things happen. It was no panic. Look, he was lethargic, they hit a bunch of tough shots, and if Marcus Smart doesn’t go 7-for-10 from 3, we’re not even talking about it.”
So, there you have it. LeBron James had “a little bug” and “was so lethargic” in that Game 3 loss to Boston on Sunday. Otherwise, maybe he too would be undefeated in the playoffs, just like the Golden State Warriors. We should probably also mention James played all but three minutes of Game 3.
Even LeBron’s 34 points, six assists and five rebounds in Game 4, despite playing with those aforementioned four fouls in the second half, seemed like a subpar outing for the four-time NBA MVP, since it was Irving who sparked the comeback from a deficit as large as 16 in an eventual 112-99 win. That effort falling short of expectations should speak to how highly we regard James at his best.
But Jefferson’s revelation that LeBron’s 11-point, six-turnover performance in Game 3 was due to lethargy will do nothing to silence those who hold so little regard for James at his worst. If people will drop false equivalents like, “Jordan never had anyone close to a Kyrie,” they will surely cite MJ’s 38 points in his epic Flu Game from the 1997 NBA Finals in comparison to LeBron’s not-so-epic Little Bug Game in Game 3 on Sunday. Which is probably why, as Jefferson said, James didn’t use it as an excuse.
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