Wow. Times a thousand.
In what was one of the greatest performances in NBA history, LeBron James catapulted himself into serious consideration for the greatest performer of all time. Enough so that more and more, that talk grows among media and fans alike. If these Cleveland Cavaliers win this championship, there will be a real debate on who is better, LeBron or Jordan. There is a certain amount of disregard for the current greatest player in the world. The stakes have always been higher for The Chosen One. But he's always met them before. With one premeditated mistake, albeit one that most normal 25 year-olds would make, LeBron has silenced the doubters. The haters may still persist, but the only doubters are fools who can't see before their very eyes.
It started on October 29th, 2003 where at Andyman's Treehouse I kept tabs(and ran them up) on James' pro debut in Sacramento. Couldn't even fathom that an 18 year old could have 26 points, 9 assists, 6 rebounds, and 4 steals on 12-20 shooting with only 2 turnovers in his first pro game ever. On national television. Better than I expected. It has been an absolute joy to watch LeBron since that day. Even if I couldn't bring myself to root for him in Miami. When he came back to Cleveland, something I had thought would happen eventually, just not this year, I was thrilled because LeBron had a chance to save his legacy.
Coming back to Akron and winning a championship in Cleveland would mean the forgiveness of most of Northeast Ohio. Something I think is important to James. LeBron would be joining Kyrie Irving, a budding superstar. They also had the first pick in the NBA draft. Even with that pick, the Cavs were still supposedly short on talent. There was some desperation in the organization. Burned once before by LeBron, they didn't want to take any half measures. The first pick along with the previous year's number 1 overall pick got traded to Minnesota for Kevin Love. At this point, Cleveland became the title favorite, and Cleveland fans started believing.
So of course, naturally, Cleveland things started happening. Kevin Love was rudely injured by Boston's Kelly Olynyk in the first round of the playoffs and later ruled out for the postseason. Kyrie Irving was hampered with injuries yet Cleveland soldiered on to a 12-2 record in the Eastern Conference playoffs. This set them on a collision course with Golden State who could brag of their own impressive 12-3 record in the Wild, Wild West.
Game 1 was everything everyone hoped for as it neared the end. The undermanned Cavs were being carried by LeBron and Kyrie and running with the Warriors. The Warriors proved their depth advantage, with their bench outscoring Cleveland's 34-8. J.R. Smith was the only Cavalier to score off the bench but he shot 3-13 to do it. Irving, known for porous defensive play, made a huge one with his block of MVP Curry with 24 seconds left. LeBron added fuel to the hater pyre by missing a difficult long jumper near the end of regulation causing the game to go into overtime after Shumpert's put back attempt miss. The game was basically over at that point as Golden State ran away to a 108-100 victory.
The series may have been over with about 2 minutes left in overtime when a valiant effort from a less than 100% Irving may have backfired. Irving went down on a drive and eventually left the game. The next day it was announced that he'd suffered a broken kneecap and would be out 3-4 months. Fans of all ages fought back tears. Fought back tears of disappointment and whispered, "Put me in Coach". From Jenny from Chagrin Falls to Robby from Chardon, Cavs fans felt something they'd felt far too many times before.
By the end of Game 1 on Thursday night, LeBron James had scored a Finals career high 44 points on 18-38 shooting with 8 rebounds and 6 assists. Stephen Curry had 26 points on 10-20 of shooting including 2-6 from three-point land with 8 assists. Kyrie Irving played 43 minutes and had 23 points joining Timofey Mozgov as the only other Cavalier that reached double figures in points. Kyrie and LeBron combined for 67% of the Cavs total points. The Cavs as a team shot 41.5% from the field, 29.0% from three, and a disappointing 68.4% from the foul line. The Warriors shot 44.3%, 37.0%, and an astonishing 90.9% in those respective categories. Different inferences can be made from this. That the Cavs should have won and let one get away or that the Cavs shouldn't have been as close as they were. I think losing Kyrie in the manner they did, that late in the game,was a gut punch from which they wouldn't recover.
That gut punch turned into an ulcer on Monday when it was announced Irving would be out for the rest of the playoffs. Few fans or media members could truly be confident in Cleveland's chances anymore especially after losing Game 1 in the shadow of LeBron's Jerry Westian game. Admittedly, I was skeptical like most that Cleveland could win without Love. It didn't seem logical to still give them a chance without Irving too. I'd be mildly surprised if they won 1 game in this series, not two, not three, not four. Looking back on the last time we had one great player with a supporting cast resembling the remaining Cavs, you'd probably need to go back to 2001 with Allen Iverson and the Philadelphia 76ers. Iverson came into L.A. to take on a juggernaut Lakers squad that had gone 11-0 in the playoffs. Iverson scored 48 on the road with 6 assists and 5 steals in Game 1 and Philadelphia pulled off the big upset. They then proceeded to lose the next 4 in a row. Has there ever been a team that won a title without their 2nd and 3rd best player in the Finals?
Spoiler Alert: It has not happened before. That's what made Game 2 so special. LeBron played hero ball and it worked. The LeBron narrative is such that simply because it is him, people will not count the Cavs out anymore. Not if they could win Game 2 in the manner that they did. It's not just that LeBron had 39 points, 16 rebounds, and 11 assists. It's the Cavs shot a miserable 32.2% from the field and still found a way to win on the road and in overtime. It's that Matty Delly played 42 minutes helping guard Steph Curry and having a team high plus/minus of +15. LBJ had 0.
But at the same time, we can't forget some other numbers. The Warriors shot a very uncharacteristic 8-35 from three-point land including Chef Curry undercooking at 2-15. They also had 10 less rebounds and 5 more turnovers. I like Dellavedova. He hustles and plays with grit. He's a scrappy, likable guy (on your team). The Cavs found their Aaron Craft. But I don't see Steph Curry repeating his Game 2 performance. He may still struggle a little bit for him being it's his first time on this large a stage, but he won't play as poorly as he did in Game 2 probably for the rest of the series. LeBron played 50 minutes on Sunday night after playing 45 three days before. How superhuman can he be?
It's probably a good thing that James Jones is playing more. He's also been to 5 straight Finals. The Warriors can't boast that kind of experience. It might be what's affecting them. Perhaps this will merely be the year that Steph Curry has to pay his dues and lose in the Finals before reigning triumphant in the years to come. The Cavs can win but they need more things to fall into place than Golden State does. The Warriors still have the advantage but the Cavs still have LeBron and hope. If Golden State plays the normal game they are capable of and had been playing normally in these playoffs, the Cavs *shouldn't* stand a chance with their current lineup. But if the Cavs can play all out again and get Curry and the rest of the Dubs' perimeter players to struggle, they can keep it close like they did in Game 2. J.R. Smith should have a better game but as always, all eyes will be on the King. And you come at the King, you best not miss.
(Warning: Video May Contain Graphic Violence)