I am watching the NBA Finals this year, and while I think the Golden State Warriors will win the championship (and should win the championship), the best player on the court so far has been LeBron James. This is a performance for the ages – and even if his team loses, it should take nothing away from what he’s done this series.
Everyone who follows basketball knows that he’s an amazing player. He has almost everything you could want for basketball: killer court vision and understanding, physical gifts, outside shooting, a post-up game, great defense, rebounding, and when he drives for the basket, your best bet is generally to get out of the way.
He’s turned all of that up for the Finals, because he has no choice.
His best help for the season – players Kevin Love (center/power forward) and Kyrie Irving (point guard) are out with injuries. The team on the court has good players, but they’re not equivalent replacements for Love and Irving. As a result, everything is going through LeBron.
LeBron is bringing the ball up the court (i.e., he’s his team’s point guard.) He’s also serving as the focal point in an isolation offense, because he’s the one who can create best; as the most consistent shooter, he’s taking the most shots (and making a high percentage of them, overall). He’s having to play help defense in addition to defending his assignment (who, by the way, is no slouch – so LeBron can’t rest on defense.)
Take LeBron off the court, and the Warriors are scrimmaging against a talented practice squad – able to score in streaks, but generally surprising everyone when things go right.
When you consider that the Cavaliers are down 3-2 in the Finals… well, that means that LeBron James has won two games nearly by himself against an excellent NBA team. By himself. By playing unbelievable minutes, by playing better than I think I’ve ever seen any NBA player play as an overall effort.
If Kyrie Irving hadn’t fractured his kneecap in Game One of this series, and had been able to maintain the level of play we expected from him, then you’d have a great Finals instead of watching one of the greatest players in the NBA give us every last effort to win.
I think the Warriors will wrap up the series on Tuesday, giving LeBron a losing record in the Finals, and history will see only “4-2” in the records. But the truth is, that “4-2” should have an asterisk – not that it’s an invalid championship, but only to note that LeBron James played better than anyone could have expected, even from him.
It doesn’t have the drama of Willis Reed walking into Madison Square Garden, it doesn’t have the visceral imagery of Jordan pushing off Bryon Russell to win his last championship… but …
The NBA literati need to remember this. We may never see another player do this. Ever.