I know you haven’t heard from me in a few weeks now. You can look at this in one of two ways. A) You can be resentful and annoyed or B) You can be grateful that you didn’t have to suffer through whatever tantrum I would’ve thrown over the last two games of the Rockets/Spurs series. But c’mon man. If you’re Houston, how do you manage lose a game in overtime in which you lead the entire game while the other team’s best player rode the bench throughout the whole overtime period? If that wasn’t sad enough for Houston…okay okay I’m done.
In a few days from now, all basketball fans will gather ‘round their televisions to watch the most anticipated NBA finals of my lifetime. Going into the preseason, both the Warriors and the Cavaliers had an 80% chance to reach the finals according to the Westgate Las Vegas Sports Book, which were the best combined preseason odds in league history. People are always talking about how intriguing the all-star game would be if it actually meant something to the winning conference. Well, I can promise this 7 game series won’t be too far off from that dream scenario. Between LeBron, Kyrie, Love, Richard Jefferson, Deron Williams, Steph, Durant, Draymond, Iggy and Klay, there are 10 players who were All-NBA caliber at one point or another in their career, with the majority of them being probable hall of famers.
No need to worry. I’m not here to bore you to sleep with another finals preview. This might be the first time in NBA history where the team names and rosters tell you all you need to know about what to expect this Thursday. I’m here to talk about one specific player. No, not the two-time reigning MVP, not the lanky, All-NBA, 6’11 ring chaser and no, not the nutcracker (or as Draymond likes to call himself, a victim of natural body ticks). I’m here to talk about the most dominant player this game has ever seen, who was greatly underappreciated this year. Well…greatly underappreciated by his own standards.
In a year where 13 guys averaged over 25 points per game, the NBA record for triple-doubles in a season was set by a man who had one of the best regular seasons ever, James Harden and Kawhi Leonard carried their teams to a top-3 spot in the Western Conference and Boston claimed the one-seed in the East, LeBron James still managed to stand out and showed up when it mattered most. LeBron may have been the first player in league history to quietly average 26 points and nearly 9 rebounds and assists per game. Many will argue that Kawhi’s ankle injury, intentional or not, was by far the most impactful moment of this year’s playoffs. However, those people were clearly unaware of the dangers of igniting a fire inside of LeBron James. Why? Because LeBron not being nominated as a finalist for the first time since the 2007-2008 season is the worst thing that could have possibly happened to the rest of the NBA playoff field.
With a 12-1 record through the first three series of the 2017 Playoffs, LeBron James is averaging just under 33 points a night, while leading the rest of the field in total points and steals. Sure, the Cavs have some other big names on their roster, but the size of the gap between LeBron (1st place) and 2nd place Kawhi Leonard in both Win Shares and Value Over Replacement Player shows how crucial LeBron is to the success of this Cavaliers team. It’s no surprise to anyone that Cleveland’s only loss this postseason came during one of the worst playoff games of LeBron James’ career.
There is a huge misconception when it comes to analysts and fans having varied opinions on who the league MVP should be. Aside from the obvious bias of an MVP candidate who plays for your favorite team, people’s opinions on the MVP come down to one factor. This one variable has little to do with the different opinions on a player or the team and a whole lot to do with each person’s version of the definition of the “Most Valuable Player.” I could probably come up with at least 4 realistic definitions of the term “MVP”, of which one would fit for each LeBron, Kawhi, Harden and Westbrook. The difference between LeBron and the three MVP finalists? LeBron has a game this Thursday. Don’t get me wrong. Westbrook will deservingly win MVP this year and any arguments for Kawhi and Harden are probably valid as well, but LeBron James is the best living and breathing basketball player in the world right now.
This Thursday, LeBron will be making his seventh straight NBA finals appearance. Yes, so will James Jones, but I’m pretty sure he has more career finals appearances than minutes played in the last two years. Does anyone else feel like LeBron teases his way through the regular season just to see what the rest of his team is capable of before the playoffs start? I swear, every year deja vu with a LeBron James run team. Going into the season, they’re expected to run away with the East. Then, there are about four different points of panic during the season in which the media covers the Cavs’ struggles more than they covered Deflategate. But, come playoff time, LeBron turns it up about 10 notches and walks his way to the finals. The regular season almost appears as a trial run for LeBron to observe and determine how many points he has to average in the playoffs to take Cleveland back to the finals. Not only is LeBron averaging more points and steals, but the Cavaliers playoff record has a direct correlation with LeBron’s ability to turn it on during the playoffs. Cleveland is 12-1 through the first 13 games of the playoffs. How many points did LeBron have in that one loss? 11. How many times during the regular season did Cleveland win 12 games over a 13 game span? ZERO. These are the playoffs. The best of the best. In 13 games against Boston, Washington and Indiana, the Cavaliers won 12 games.
You can argue all you want about Kyrie being the most clutch shooter on their team. Maybe LeBron doesn’t have the same clutch gene that Jordan had, but you know what makes a good basketball player great? The ability to know your teammates and know who gives the team the best chance to win the game or take the lead on that day, even if its not you. LeBron has accepted that and that is part of what makes him so great. At the end of the day, LeBron James grades his season just as any great player should and would-whether he brought home the most important piece of hardware or not. Will he be standing on that podium hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy when the final buzzer sounds? Something tells me that he will…and it won’t be the last time. Like in every sport, a player’s legacy will ultimately be determined based on how bright they shine when it matters most. LeBron James not only knows that, but lives by it…and he’s making sure we take note.