I don't want to turn Cleveland 's Game 4 loss into a LeBron gush-fest, but you could almost hear the haters warming up in the bullpen Tuesday night. Before you start throwing high hard ones at James, take it from someone who knows.
"I'm very proud of our guys to keep hanging in there with what he's doing in this series," Stan Van Gundy said.
Magic Lead 3-1 | Next Game: Thursday @ Cleveland, 8:30 PM ET
He was not talking about Zydrunas Ilgauskas. He was talking about the guy who is averaging 42.3 points a game. The guy who might have sent Van Gundy's uncle to his final resting place had the last shot gone in.
It didn't, and now the Cavaliers are one game away from having their 66-win season declared a failure. That will be laid on you-know-who's shoulders. It will go something like this:
James can't win the big one. James can't lift his team. James has bad breath.
Please, take a deep one.
Blaming James for losing this series is like blaming Davy Crockett for losing the Alamo. All it proves is that nothing he does will ever be good enough for some people.
I can't name any off the top of my head, but they are out there. They say for all the numbers and highlights he puts up, LeBron still lacks that certain something that defines greatness.
That certain something is titles, of which Bill Russell has 11, Michael Jordan has six, Larry Bird has three. Six years into his career, James has as many as you do.
Of course, Russell had Bob Cousy & Co. Jordan had Scottie Pippen and some shooters. Bird had Kevin McHale, Robert Parrish and Dennis Johnson.
James has Mo Williams, who is no Mo Namath.
About all he's been good for so far is guaranteeing the Cavs would win Game 4. That apparently inspired Orlando to fire more missiles than North Korea.
The Magic made 17 3-pointers. Dwight Howard made his free throws. Rafer Alston inspired Rafer Madness headlines around the country. When those things happen, you can close your eyes and almost see a championship parade down Disney World's Main Street USA.
They should certainly make the Finals considering how teams with 3-1 leads are have won 182 of 190 series since 1947. That's where the 95.6 percent comes in.
Van Gundy began his postgame press conference by wishing his uncle well after recent triple-bypass surgery.
"I hope he's resting," Van Gundy said. "I certainly hope he didn't watch that game."
It was hard enough on the crowd at Amway Arena, which at times could only stand in awe at what James did. He hasn't had much help all series, so he came out looking to get Williams, Delonte West and the other cadavers involved.
They played well enough to make you think Orlando survived Cleveland 's best shot Tuesday night. And that if the Cavs don't get James more help next season, the rumors of him parting for New York or Chicago or Timbuktu will drown out anything fans can muster at Quicken Loans Arena.
That's a nightmare scenario for another Cleveland day. For now, it's enough agony just pondering what just happened.
All seemed lost when Rashard Lewis hit a 3-pointer with 4.1 seconds left in regulation to give the Magic a 100-98 lead. Down came James, bulling his way to the basket and getting fouled with 0.5 seconds left.
Pressure? What pressure?
"He's our money guy," Mike Brown said.
James made both free throws, though the second one actually hit the rim three times. He also had eight turnovers.
"The ball is in my hand a lot, and I may have a few turnovers," he said. "That happens. But I have to figure out how to not have eight. Eight is unacceptable to me."
No, James is not above criticism. You can feast on those flaws if you want. You can say Jordan or Bird or Kobe Bryant never would have thrown the ball away four times in the fourth quarter.
You'd be wrong, of course, but you can say it. You can also regurgitate how James needs titles to validate his greatness.
All I know is if that's the case, Will Perdue is at least four times the champion James is. And with all due respect to Perdue, he never hit a 3-pointer to win a game like James did last Friday.
The one James made Tuesday with 4.1 seconds left in overtime was even better. He took an in-bounds pass, turned, fired and almost ended up in Van Gundy's lap.
"That was out of this world," Van Gundy said. "I mean, to turn and hit that, I mean, this guy is unbelievable."
All it did was cut Orlando 's lead to 115-114. Lewis was fouled and made a free throw with 3.2 seconds left, which was more than enough time for James.
"With LeBron James on the floor, doesn't 3.2 seconds seem like it's two minutes?" Van Gundy said.
The Magic double-teamed him, but James still got the ball at halfcourt, took a couple of dribbles toward the sideline and fired a 40-footer.
"It felt good leaving my hand," he said.
If that one had gone in, Kobe 's mother would have been wearing a No. 23 jersey today. But all it did was graze the rim. James finished with 44 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists.
But at least Van Gundy's uncle didn't won't need a fourth bypass.
James can still salvage his reputation, at least temporarily, by winning Thursday night in Cleveland. It pays to remember Orlando closed out its first two playoffs with road wins at Philadelphia and Boston.
"This is a little different here," Alston said. "We're playing against one of the best players that ever laced up a pair of sneakers."
And he doesn't need a ring to prove that.