Ten days ago, the Cavaliers were dead. Today, they’re NBA champions.
How and why we got here has everything to do with the savior of Cleveland and one of the best players to ever play this game: LeBron James.
In our country, we like to have debates about James’ greatness and whether or not he’s one of the best players of all-time. We also question his ability to come up big in clutch situations; after all, he was just one game away from going to 2-5 in the Finals.
But frankly, these discourses are ridiculous. They have become outlets for
Twitter eggs LeBron haters to vent their frustrations about the best player in the game’s supposed “flaws”. These people come in all shapes and sizes, and, as last night showed, from many different walks of life:
Kyrie last 5 games: 30 in win, 34 as LeBron disappeared, 41 in win, 23 in win (tone-setting 20 in 1st half), 26 & game-winner in Game 7. MVP
— Skip Bayless (@RealSkipBayless) June 20, 2016
Here it comes: Witnesses will now make the case LeBron James is better than Michael Jordan.
— Skip Bayless (@RealSkipBayless) June 20, 2016
This is absurd. Anyone who makes a sincere argument about James’ legacy compared to Jordan’s clearly doesn’t understand just how much basketball has changed over the past 20 years. These people also don’t understand that the two men are completely different players who do completely different things on the court. LeBron has always been aware of this, thankfully.
I’m not MJ, I’m LJ
— LeBron James (@KingJames) February 13, 2013
He is LJ, one of the best individual talents the league has ever seen. Nothing more, nothing less. Let’s stop having preposterous debates about whether or not he’s better than Michael Jordan. It really does not matter and I could not care less.
What does matter, though, is what he just accomplished with these Cavaliers: winning an NBA championship, the first for the city of Cleveland since 1964.
Moreover, it was the way they did it, coming back despite seemingly impossible odds to defeat the greatest regular season team in NBA history, that makes this so remarkable. The Cavs demonstrated Cleveland resiliency with a flare for the dramatic, both during the playoffs and over the course of the regular season.
Let me put it to you this way: in mid-January, did you think there was any way this Cavs team could beat the Warriors? On January 25th and in the wake of the firing of former head coach David Blatt, I wrote this about Cleveland’s prospects of winning a championship:
This is not a question about whether or not the Cavs can come out of the East. That question has been answered. However, Cleveland will have serious issues if they are matched up with the Spurs or Warriors in the Finals, and they may get beaten handily by either team.
Which is a fact that neither David Blatt, David Griffin nor Tyronn Lue can do anything about.
Okay, needless to say, I was wrong. But I wasn’t alone; the Warriors defeated the Cavaliers by 34 the week before, and James’ team lacked any semblance of chemistry or connectivity; many saw this as a red flag for Cleveland’s title hopes. Blatt was out as the head coach by that Friday and GM David Griffin immediately hired Tyronn Lue as the team’s permanent coach. Lue’s previous claim to fame was as the guy who got stepped over by Allen Iverson in Game 1 of the 2001 Finals.
The move paid dividends; Lue constructed his lineups to the team could play small. Playing small is what allowed Cleveland to compete with the Warriors for seven games.
Another thing Lue did was take control of the locker room. He did this by holding his star players, including James, accountable for their actions, something that Blatt always struggled with. For example, in a huddle in the middle of a regular season game, Lue told LeBron to, well, you know.
Nevertheless, in spite of Lue’s control over the team and their new style of play, the Cavs would still need players to make individual sacrifices. In some cases, these concessions came from their best players. For example, Kevin Love missed Game 3 of the Finals with his concussion. Prior to Game 4, he told Lue that if he was cleared, he would do whatever was necessary to win the game. That included coming off the bench, which is exactly what he did in favor of a smaller lineup with Richard Jefferson. The Cavs lost Game 4, but Love’s individual sacrifice of minutes and his usual starting role set the tone for the rest of the team.
With all of this being said, Cleveland still found itself down 3-1 in the Finals. This deficit, exacerbated by the fact that Game 5 was at Oracle Arena, left the Cavs in a tough position; no team before this year had ever come back from a 3-1 deficit in the NBA Finals. James and sidekick Kyrie Irving would need to step up to keep the team’s season alive.
That’s exactly what they did, combining for 82 points in a 112-97 victory to force a Game 6 at Quicken Loans Arena. Each player scored 41 points, marking the first time in NBA history that two teammates scored 40 or more points in a Finals game.
James continued his domination in Game 6, with a 41-point, 11-rebound, 8-assist performance to take the series to a deciding seventh game. That game, and the NBA season, would come down to the wire in a fitting end to the Cavaliers’ year.
Game 7 was tight throughout, as the largest lead for either team was seven points. A Klay Thompson layup with 4:39 to go in the fourth quarter tied the game at 89, and it would stay there for almost four minutes. The Warriors’ best chance to score during this period came on a fast break with just under two minutes left. As Andre Iguodala went up for the lay-in, James made what is likely the best block of his career and maybe one of the best in NBA history:
Roughly a minute later and with the game still tied at 89, Irving got a mismatch against Steph Curry. The rest is history:
A Curry miss on the next possession gave the ball back to Cleveland. James was fouled on a violent dunk attempt over Draymond Green and, in spite of hurting his wrist on the play, was able to sink one of two free throws to put the Cavs up four.
The Warriors missed two shots on the next possession, ending the game, the season, and Cleveland’s suffering. After the game ended, many Cavalier players collapsed to the floor, overcome by the emotion of the moment and the enormity of the victory.
And after all that, the Cavs are, albeit improbably, champions today.
To conclude, the Cavs were a team of adversity this season. They faced issues with chemistry, coaching, and injuries to do something that’s never been done before: come back to win the NBA Finals after being down 3-1. James was the unanimous Finals MVP; he averaged nearly 30 points, 11 rebounds, and 9 assists… for the entire series. Yeah, not bad. Not bad at all.
He may not be the best player of all-time, or even in the NBA today. That doesn’t matter. LeBron James just pulled off the greatest accomplishment of his career: bringing a championship back to The Land.
Let’s applaud him for that.