Friends say Celtics loss affected LeBron the ‘worst mentally’ since J.R. Smith debacle in 2018


It’s been over a week since LeBron James went nuclear, exploding on referees for a missed call that, in all likelihood, cost his team the game. The league would later admit Jayson Tatum fouled James on the final play of regulation, which would have sent LeBron to the line for two free throws. James was widely mocked for his viral meltdown, appearing inconsolable as he lay on the floor, lamenting the outcome of a game he felt was stolen from him, depriving the Lakers of a signature win over their oldest rival.

James’ pursuit of history, needing just 36 points to pass Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the NBA’s all-time leading scorer, has clearly taken a toll on the veteran, who is also battling a foot injury that requires daily maintenance including deep-tissue massages after every game. The loss to Boston certainly didn’t help his psyche, putting the Lakers veteran in a dark place. In fact, according to Joe Vardon of The Athletic, James missed the following game against Brooklyn to “decompress,” gathering himself after one of the most frustrating experiences of his 20-year career.

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“[James] was so incensed that he eventually crumpled to the court in exasperation—a feeling that lasted long after the loss,” wrote Vardon. “Several people close to James described that loss in Boston as the worst for him mentally since he and the Cavaliers lost Game 1 of the 2018 NBA Finals to the Warriors in overtime, on a night when James scored 51 points.”

Despite a herculean performance from James, Game 1 of the 2018 Finals is most remembered for an inexplicable blunder committed by J.R. Smith, not realizing the score was tied until it was already too late. Similar to his outburst in Boston, James was apoplectic, enraged both at the officiating (his desperate attempt to call a timeout fell on deaf ears) and Smith’s unconscionable gaffe, dooming the Cavs’ title chances in one of the most chaotic finishes in Finals history.

“There were only two times he felt cheated after a game,” a friend of James’ told Vardon on the condition of anonymity. “Saturday [against Boston] and Game 1.”

It speaks to James’ legendary intensity that he would care this much about a regular-season game, particularly with Los Angeles currently sitting in 13th place, a game and a half out of the Western Conference’s 10th and final play-in spot. Of course, that competitive nature is also what makes James so prolific, an unprecedented athlete who not only lived up to his enormous hype, but somehow managed to exceed it. James will continue his quest for basketball immortality Tuesday against the Thunder with Abdul-Jabbar, in anticipation of his record falling, expected to be in attendance.

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Featured Image Photo Credit: Maddie Meyer, Getty Images