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NBA FINALS

LeBron James fails to strike dominant note in NBA Finals

After Miami Heat star scores only 15 in San Antonio Spurs' runaway Game 3 win, Magic Johnson says James needs to be more like Kobe Bryant.

June 12, 2013|By Mike Bresnahan

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SAN ANTONIO β€” As LeBron James missed shot after shot and the Miami Heat racked up some serious scoreboard debt, the question had to be asked.

Was Game 3 the worst performance ever by James on the big stage?

He finally started scoring in the last two minutes of the third quarter, but Miami trailed San Antonio by, ahem, 21 points, leading to second-guessing, finger-pointing, whatever you wanted to call it, as the Spurs took a 2-1 lead in the NBA Finals.

"I've never seen LeBron passive," TNT and NBA TV analyst Charles Barkley said after Game 3. "He wasn't being aggressive."

James ended up with 15 points on seven-for-21 shooting in Miami's 113-77 loss Tuesday, leaving him with 38.9% shooting accuracy and a teeny, tiny 16.7-point average through three games of this series.

An eight-point, three-for-11 debacle in the 2011 Finals against Dallas ultimately rated as his biggest Finals flop, but James got perilously close to copying it Tuesday. Game 4 is on Thursday in San Antonio.

King James has won only one title in three previous Finals trips. To make it one for four would not help His Highness in the big legacy picture. Time for him to get more selfish, ABC analyst Magic Johnson said.

"I want him to be more like Kobe [Bryant] or Michael [Jordan] than like me. He has to score points," Johnson said Wednesday on a conference call with reporters. "Dwyane Wade is what he is now. You know he can't give you 25 points. Chris Bosh is a great player, but he's not a dominant force.

"You're the only dominant force. If you go well, then the other guys β€” Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh β€” will be able to play off of you."

James hasn't scored under 20 in three consecutive games since a similar scoring slump two years ago in the Finals against Dallas, when he had efforts of 17, eight and 17 points as the Heat lost to the Mavericks in six games. A total of 178 games, regular season and playoffs, passed between the end of that drought and the start of this one.

"Me as a leader, I can't afford to perform like I did [Tuesday] night and expect us to win on the road. It's that simple," James said Wednesday. "So I'm putting all the pressure on my chest, on my shoulders to come through for our team. I have to do whatever it takes.

"I had 11 rebounds, I had five assists, but seven for 21 [shooting] and zero free throws ain't going to cut it…. I guarantee I'll be better [Thursday] for sure."

Miami never lost a playoff game so badly before Tuesday. It was the third-most-lopsided game in Finals history, behind only the Lakers' loss to Boston in 2008 (131-92) and Chicago's drubbing of Utah in 1998 (96-54).

Johnson experienced heartache plenty of times in his career, winning five NBA championships but also losing four times in the Finals. He didn't think James' reputation would sustain permanent damage if another title opportunity were squandered, dropping James to 1-3 in Finals appearances.

His prominence "may take a little hit," Johnson said, but added that it was equally important to look past the struggles of James. The Miami team itself might need to be broken up.

"What we might see is the end of this 'Big Three,'" Johnson said, referring to James, Wade and Bosh. "No matter what happens, things have to change with that team because everybody has caught up to them now. Teams are not afraid of them. They have adjusted to the Big Three."

It's not as though the Spurs have a name-brand defender shutting down James. They're known for their terrific team defense, but youngsters Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green have taken turns on James with rousing success.

It's up to James now. The rest of the Finals is waiting.

"We're not worried about LeBron," Wade said. "He's going to find his way. He's going to get in a groove."

Parker day to day

Tony Parker was listed as day to day after an MRI exam confirmed a strained right hamstring.

He left Game 3 early in the fourth quarter with the Spurs ahead by 23.

"The good news it's not a tear. It's not a defect," Parker said. "Now I just have to see how I'm going to feel [Thursday]."

Parker is averaging 13.3 points and 6.3 assists in the Finals.

mike.bresnahan@latimes.com

Twitter: @Mike_Bresnahan

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