LeBron James' lethargic second-half effort against Celtics overshadows triple-double

Alex Reimer
May 16, 2018 - 9:53 am

LeBron James’ stat line in Game 2 was tremendous. The King rained down 21 points on the Celtics in the first quarter, including an incredible fadeaway jumper that nobody else in the league would be able to hit. At the end of the night, James finished with a triple-double, putting up 42 points to go along with 12 assists and 10 rebounds. 

But those figures don’t tell the whole story. James’ lack of hustle on the defensive end, and overall passivity in the second half, had a bigger impact on the game than his pretty numbers. The Cavaliers were lethargic on defense, watching Terry Rozier hit a wide-open three to cap Boston’s run in the third and allowing Al Horford to corral a rebound late in the game with four players standing around him, which led to a give-and-go with Rozier that iced the contest. 

James made a defensive impact when he wanted to, such as when he swatted Rozier’s layup into the first row with 3:20 left in the final period. But at that point, the damage was done. Boston held a 12-point lead. 

The game turned in the third quarter, when the Celtics outscored Cleveland 36-22. James was on the floor for all 12 minutes, and spent much of it jogging back on the defensive end. At least he got a nice view of Rozier’s breakaway dunk. It’s easy to recount plays from memory when you’re a bystander. 

In hindsight, James was never the same after taking Jayson Tatum’s shoulder to the chin late in the second quarter. From that moment forward, the Celtics outscored the Cavaliers 71-47. Boston literally punched James in the mouth, and he had no answer. 

“I'm not going to lose sleep over it," James told reporters postgame, per WEEI’s Sara Civian. "When you lay everything on the line, at the end of the day, you can live with that.”

James’ nonchalant attitude signals apathy more than anything else. At the end of Game 1, which the Celtics won by 25 points, James said his concern level was at zero. On one hand, that comment could’ve been read as a superstar player keeping everything in perspective. But on the other hand, the Cavaliers were just smoked in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference by a team giving significant minutes to Aron Baynes and Semi Ojeleye. But James, curiously, didn’t seem all that upset. 

At 6-foot-8 and 250 pounds, James could back down any Celtics guard or wing player into the paint. But he didn’t do that consistently Tuesday, instead opting for mid-range jumpers and long three-pointers. While James compiled his stats, he was an afterthought after the first quarter. 

To put it simply, the Celtics appeared to try harder than Cleveland in Game 2. They played tenacious defense and went after every loose ball –– with Marcus Morris even sacrificing his body at one point to keep the ball inbounds. The Cavaliers, meanwhile, rolled their eyes at each other after turnovers. 

In one 10-second fourth quarter sequence, Marcus Smart exhibited more heart and hustle than the entire Cleveland roster. 

As the best player in the world, James is responsible for setting the tempo for his team. And there he was in the second half, watching the Celtics pour it on. In this game, the triple-double fails to tell the whole story. 

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