(right) scored just 15 points on 21 shots in Game 3. (Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images)
SAN ANTONIO -- LeBron James went the entire months of November and December without scoring fewer than 20 points once. He railed to reach 20 points just five times during the regular season and twice more during the Heat's first three rounds of the postseason.
Now, in the NBA Finals against the Spurs, he's yet to score more than 18 points in three tries, and the Heat are trailing in the series 2-1. Some of that is by design, as he's clearly looked to be a playmaker and distributor for long stretches, particularly early in games. Some of that is circumstantial, as Miami's Game 2 win and San Antonio's Game 3 win were of the blowout variety, meaning the Heat didn't need his scoring in a closer's role. Some of that is scheme, as the Spurs have done well to mix up their defense in an attempt to confuse and frustrate James.
And some of it, according to Spurs guard Danny Green, is James limiting his own effectiveness.
"We know what kind of a player LeBron is," Green said after James scored just 15 points on 7-of-21 shooting and didn't attempt a free throw. "We know he's not at his best right now. He missed a lot of shots that he normally makes. We're sure Game 4 he's going to come out a lot different. ... LeBron, [it's] not just us stopping him. He's kind of stopping himself out there and we're getting a little lucky."
Green elaborated, noting that James, who is shooting 21-for-54 (38.9 percent) in the series, isn't performing to his usual MVP standard.
"We're making it tough for him," Green said. "But you guys have seen him all year at his best, and how he can perform. Obviously, he's not doing that right now. I don't know what it is. I'm hoping that it doesn't come out. But so far we've done a decent job on him defensively, and he's been doing his job, impacting the game in other ways."
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich wasn't about to take the credit for James' unusually low scoring totals.
"We haven't stopped anybody," he said. "We're trying to play good team defense on everybody."
Even though the Heat mustered just 77 points, tied for their lowest scoring output all season, coach Erik Spoelstra was preaching defense.
"[James] will figure it out," Spoelstra said. "He always figures it out. I'm not concerned about that. We'll work to make sure that he's getting to places he can be comfortable and confident. We're kidding ourselves if we're going to point at the 77 points. That is a factor [but] you have to play both ends. We got what we deserved."
Although he didn't conduct an interview at the postgame podium like usual, James didn't duck from responsibility after the worst playoff loss in franchise history.
"I just have to play better," James said. "I can't have a performance like tonight and expect to win. I've got to shoot the ball better, make better decisions and I will get into the film and see ways I can do that. I'm not putting my play on anybody, I'm owning everything that I did tonight. ... I'm putting everything on my chest and on my shoulders and I have to be better. My teammates are doing a great job and I'm not doing my part."