What has happened to LeBron James in the 2011 NBA Finals is our Machu Picchu. The Miami Heat star -- a two-time MVP, eternal All-Star and staple on the All-NBA team, a man who dominated the Boston Celtics and Chicago Bulls in these very NBA Playoffs -- has fallen apart. Amid accusations of being a sissyface choker, a fraud undeserving of his crown and -- worst of all in the NBA -- a shrinking violet, LeBron has ... continued to struggle.
He earned a rare Finals triple-double in Miami's Game 5 loss, but remained stunningly submissive on offense in the fourth quarter, taking (and missing) just three shots before a meaningless lay-up with the game decided.
LeBron has drawn so few fouls as to be unrecognizable. While his playmaking is impressive and valuable -- four of those 10 assists from Game 5 came in the fourth, and helped lead a lay-up line that got Miami the lead it eventually set ablaze -- this is one of the great scorers of our era. And he's not scoring.
It's taken us about five centuries to unlock the mysteries of Machu Picchu, and I sure as Hades don't have all the answers today. But we can begin to organize the what-the-f$#k to start to assess the holy-s#!t-what-is-happening. With that, I present the LeBron James Every Shot Review.
This is a chronological assessment of LeBron's shooting this series, from the first quarter of Game 1 to the fourth quarter of Game 5. I created it to look at in-game progressions -- is LeBron being meek all game, or just in the fourth? I also wanted to see how LeBron's game has changed as the criticism has reached fever pitch since after Game 3.
The results are, as you'd expect, mystifying.
* LeBron has taken 16 shots in the fourth quarters of this series. He's taken 23 in the first quarters, 14 in the seconds (where he usually gets his 2-3 minutes of rest) and 23 in the thirds. He's not just starting out more aggressively in terms of finding his shot; he's becoming less likely to attack as the second half itself progresses. (The second quarter situation is interesting; it's not like he's sitting out half the period. If you want an arrow for your "he's exhausted!" quiver, the fact that he shoots so much more in the first than the second is there for the taking.)
* Of his 23 first-quarter shots, seven (30 percent) have come within five feet of the rim. For the second quarter, it's five of 14 (36 percent). For the third quarter, it's 10 of 23 (43 percent). Of LeBron's16 fourth-quarter shots, five (31 percent) have come near the rim. So James is relying on his jumper more in the first and fourth quarters ... not just in the fourth quarters.
* LeBron is 11-22 (including free throws) in the first quarter; that's 50 percent shooting. In the second, he's 7.5 of 14 (he split a pair of FTs in there), or 53.5 percent. In the third, he's 13 of 23 (56 percent). In the fourth: 5-of-16, or 31 percent. He's been much, much less efficient from the floor late.
* His efficiency has dropped as the series rolls on. In the first three games, he was 22-42 from the field (52 percent). In the last two games, he's 11-29 (38 percent).
So not only is LeBron being less aggressive a scorer in the fourth quarter, and not only is he relying more on jumpers than inside play than in the second and third quarters, not only is he missing most of his shots in fourth ... he's also get worse altogether as the series rolls on. At this rate, by Game 7 he'll be Mike Bibby. It's a perfect storm of misery.
None of this explains the why, of course. Is it because his soul is the color of lilies? Is it because he's a pitchman for State Farm and not All State? Is it because his nickname is sacrilegious? Is it because he caught the cooties from Chris Bosh? I don't know, I presume talking heads shouting don't know, and I presume we may not know until Harrison Ford comes upon some tomb filled with crystal skulls and Shia LaBeouf. Indy, we need you now more than ever.