The 2013 MVP, who took full responsibility for the loss in his post-game comments Tuesday, repeatedly tapped on the press room table, perhaps expelling some nervous energy, before ripping apart his own performance in Game 3.
"I played like s---," James said.
There was plenty for James not to like about his play on Tuesday. He shot just 7-for-21 from the field and didn't attempt a single free throw, just the second time that's happened during a playoff game during his career.
"You can't have both of them," James said, referring to his poor shooting numbers and his lack of free throw attempts. "If you can go 7‑for‑21, but you get to the free‑throw line 10‑plus times, you're being aggressive. You have to be able to shoot the ball high clip from the field if you're not going to the free‑throw line. You can't have both. It's impossible for me to go 7‑for‑21, shoot 33 percent from the field and not have free throws. You have to figure out ways offensively that you can make an impact."
Outside of a strong flourish in the third quarter, James looked uncertain as to how he should attack a San Antonio defense that regularly sagged off of him, thereby conceding jumpers and denying him driving and passing lanes.
"I don't believe I was settling," James said, after hitting just two of his 14 attempts outside the paint. "I think I took the shots that was there. I had some really good looks that didn't go down. But I just didn't get to the free‑throw line. I can't allow that to happen. I have to try to put more pressure on the defense. Not saying the whistle is going to be blown, putting pressure on their defensive interior and for myself to kick it out for my guys to have to do that. That's what I was brought here to do. And it can't be anything less than that."
Besides Mike Miller, who hit all five of his three-pointers, Miami made just three of 13 three-pointers. The Heat's 77 points tied their season-low output. Although Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh continue to struggle, James repeated his assertion from Tuesday night that the Game 3 loss was squarely on his shoulders, and he seemed to advance his "Going back to my Cleveland days" line from the Eastern Conference finals again.
"I have all the confidence in the world in my teammates," he said. "But I am the star, I am the leader. And they look at me to do things on the court, to make plays, and if I'm not doing it, I'm not doing my job."
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, as you might expect, held a contrasting viewpoint.
"No, it's not all on him, it's all of us," Spoelstra said. "That's what we talked about in there. Every single player in that locker room, the guys that played and what they brought to the game and the staff and what we brought to that game. All of us collectively need to do a better job [Thursday] night. That's our focus the next 24 hours."
James has yet to score more than 18 points in the Finals against the Spurs and he's shooting just 38.9 percent through three games, way off his regular season mark of 56.5 percent and down from his postseason mark of 49.4 percent. Meanwhile, Miami is now 4-5 in their last nine games, dating back to the Eastern Conference finals against the Pacers, after going 37-2 to close the regular season. James admitted Wednesday that his struggles in Game 3 were reflected in his somber post-game comments.
"As dark as it was last night, can't get no darker than that, especially for me," James said."If you see my [post-game] comments and you see my interview, it'll let you know it was weighing heavily on me, right after getting blown out in a Finals game. So it was weighing heavily on me. With my performance, I didn't particularly care for myself at that point in time. So obviously it was in my head."
Even still, Dwyane Wade maintained he was not concerned about James being able to pick up his play and the Heat as a whole.
"We're not worried about LeBron," Wade said. "He's going to find his way. He's going to get in a groove. As teammates you try to figure out a way to get him an easy basket in a breakout, try to get it back to him, get a lay‑up, so he can see the ball go in. As a scorer you need to see it go in. Besides that we're not concerned about him at all."
Before taking off for the practice court with his red warm-up jersey hanging off the back of his neck like a cape, James pledged that his struggles would subside when the Finals continue with Game 4 at the AT&T Center on Thursday.
"I guarantee I'll be better [Thursday] for sure," he promised. "I'll be better. I'll be much better than [Tuesday] night."Video via YouTube user cubanmark301 | Hat tip: The Big Lead