Just because the Oklahoma City Thunder are down 2-1 to the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals does not mean the Thunder can't engage in a little verbal warfare. Thunder forward Serge Ibaka criticized LeBron James' defense on Monday.
After Kevin Durant scored 36 points in the Thunder's Game 1 victory, James was tasked with the unenviable responsibility to defend Durant. Though the Heat won Games 2 and 3, Ibaka is not impressed.
"LeBron is not a good defender," Ibaka said Monday. "He can play defense for two to three minutes but not 48 minutes."
Now is a good time to point out that James was first-team NBA All-Defense this year, for the fourth year in a row. He was the leading vote-getter in 2012 (coaches elect All-Defense members).
Durant scored 32 points in Game 2 and 25 in Game 3, but James did manage to keep Durant in check in the fourth quarter of Game 3. Durant scored 33 points combined in the first two fourth quarters of the series, but James held him to 4 points on 2 of 5 shooting (with only one rebound and two turnovers) in the last quarter of Game 3.
"LeBron can't play (Durant) one-on-one," Ibaka said. "They're playing good defense like a team."
James certainly receives help from his teammates on Durant (the league's top scorer demands a double-team sometimes no matter who is defending him). But still, this seems like an odd way to criticize someone. He's not beating us, their entire team is beating us.
Besides, James did help Miami's defense in a roundabout way. By getting Durant into foul trouble (he committed 5 personal fouls in Game 2, 4 in Game 3), James helped keep him off the court. After logging over 45 minutes in Game 1, Durant played a full six fewer minutes in both Games 2 and 3.
When he went to the bench in the third quarter with the Thunder up 6, Miami roared back against the Thunder to take a 2-point lead into the fourth quarter. Sometimes the best defender is an opponent's foul count.
By one week from now, the Finals will be over, and if James and the Heat win, the debate over his defense will be entirely academic. Nothing settles a debate like a scoreboard.