Michael Jordan never played in eight consecutive NBA Finals. Kobe Bryant was never able to lead his Los Angeles Lakers teams to that kind of airspace. But some guy wearing a Cleveland Cavaliers uniform has. That guy LeBron James is pretty good. Just ask Kyrie Irving. How about those Boston Celtics fans? They know a thing or two about just how much of a once-in-a-lifetime player that James is.
And once again, James, the Celtics slayer, went rogue in the 2018 Eastern Conference Finals to prove that point. Down 3-2 in the series against Boston, James put on his Herculean pants and basically willed the Cleveland Cavaliers to their fourth straight NBA Finals appearance by burying the Celtics with back-to-back monster contests in Game 6 and Game 7.
“I guess this is the last chapter for our team in this season,” James said. “It’s been a whirlwind. I mean, it’s been Cedar Point. Sorry for you guys that don’t know much about Cedar Point, but it’s been a roller coaster. It’s been good, it’s been bad, it’s been roses. There have been thorns in the roses. There’s been everything that you can ask for. I’ve said this has been one of the most challenging seasons I’ve had. But like I told you guys, you guys are around us every day, right before the break, right before the trade deadline, I kind of reset. Didn’t know if we were going to make trades or not. Didn’t know what we were going to do with our team. But I just kind of reset my mindset and said, OK, this is the season and let’s try to make the most of it. That’s what’s gotten me to this point, gotten our team to this point.”
In a win or go home Game 6, all James did was score 46 points and grabbing 11 rebounds to lead Cleveland to a 109-99 win. He went legendary in Game 7 on the road, not taking a break and playing all 48 minutes, scoring 35 points, pulling down 15 rebounds and still finding the time to dish off nine assists to clinch another chapter of his amazing career.
Let’s not forget about those well-timed blocks he had to deny one Celtic player after another some cheap points. That’s quite a bit a load for one man to carry, but James’ broad shoulders are big enough to do just that.
“It’s what’s been asked of me, and I have to be able to just try to figure it out,” James said. “I don’t know how I can compare it to other seasons because I can only think about this one in the present. It was asked of me tonight to play the whole game, and I just tried to figure out how I could get through it. Throughout timeouts, I was able to catch my breath. At halftime, I didn’t come out and warm up. That was my time to recalibrate and catch my wind again. It’s what’s been asked of me from this ballclub. I’m the leader of this team, and I’m going to give what I’ve got. My teammates, they respect that.”
Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue was more than a little impressed with James’ performance in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals.
“The bigger the stage, the bigger the player, and he’s been doing it for us since we’ve been here,” said Lue. “The great quote from the great Doc Rivers is you always want to go into the Game 7 with the best player, and we have the best player on our team going into a Game 7. I like our chances. And he delivered again.”
Cleveland managed to walk into TD Garden and rip the hearts out of the young Celtics by holding Boston to just 30 points combined in the second and third quarter in their 87-79 win. Boston scored just 13 points in the third quarter alone. The defensive catalyst was no one other than the mercurial James, who seemed to be all over the place. Lue lauded James’ defensive prowess as an all-time gem.
“He’s had a lot of gaudy games, but I just think Game 7, in Boston, all the circumstances that surround Boston, the history behind Boston, playing a team that’s very well-coached, a good, young team that’s undefeated in the playoffs at home, and to come on the road where all the games have been lopsided, both home teams have pretty much been in great shape at home, and to come here in a hostile environment, Game 7, Eastern Conference Finals, this and Game 7 of the NBA Finals in 2016, right there,” Lue said.
For all those LeBron James haters, the same kind of idiots who refuse to even mention the Cavaliers superstar in the same sentence with Michael Jordan, he’s a lot better than your guy in many ways, whether you like it or not. James has scored more points in the postseason than anyone in the history of the NBA. That includes Jordan, (No. 2; 5,987 points), Bryant (No. 4; 5,640), and Jerry West (No.8; 4,457).
To show far James’ greatness extends, Golden State Warriors sharpshooter Stephen Curry is No. 45 on the all-time playoff scoring list with 2,211 points. That’s just one part of James’ game. He is No. 3 in assists in the postseason with 1,647. Magic Johnson, the Lakers Hall of Fame point guard sits currently atop of the throne with 2,346 dish-offs. LeBron James also ranks No. 1 in steals in the playoffs and is holding at No. 6 in rebounds. Yes, LeBron James is a special kind of player.
Cavaliers teammate Jeff Green tried his best at describing what it is like to witness the greatness of James on a day-to-day basis, starting from the time he signed with Cleveland last summer.
“I learned possibly everything man alongside one of the best players that ever played this game,” Green said. “So each day I come in the gym, and I’m by his side, I’m working out with him. I’m getting up shots, exercising. I’m seeing firsthand what it takes to be great, and he leads by example. He comes in every day, preparing his body, preparing his game, his craft, and he leads by example.
“I mean, you guys see it first hand. There’s not much I can say to try to describe what he does for us. He brings it every night, and I mean, that’s what he’s been doing, and that’s what he’s been doing all year. You know, I’m going to have his back. I’m going to be in a battle with him, and I enjoy the moment that this is, that we have. To be alongside him, I’m going to enjoy each day and continue to work to get to the ultimate goal.”
Jordan may have gone 6-for-6 in his NBA Finals appearances, but he never made it to the pinnacle of the postseason eight straight times like James has. For all the incredible scoring that Jordan did as a legendary member of the Chicago Bulls, he did so with the luxury of having Hall of Famers Dennis Rodman and Scottie Pippen next to his side during his run as the king of the NBA.
That throne clearly belongs to James, who have three titles under his belt. Of course, naysayers are going to knock James for his lack of championships in comparison to Bryant (five) or Jordan (six). For those interested in criticizing any aspect of his game, including his record run into the NBA Finals, the truth of the matter is that James has done more with less than any other star in the annals of the game.
When James and his Cavaliers won the NBA title in 2016, outside of Irving, who is now a member of the Celtics, he was surrounded by players by the names of Channing Frye, Richard Jefferson, and Iman Shumpert, among others. There are some who are dismissive of these reserve players as a minor part in the James’ basketball machine. James doesn’t see it that way.
Every star has had to surround themselves with players that compliment their game on their championship conquests. Jordan had Horace Grant, B.J. Armstrong, and Steve Kerr. Bryant had Pau Gasol, Derek Fisher, and Lamar Odom on his last two NBA title runs. Magic Johnson had his Kurt Rambis. During his four-game NBA Finals platform, James has rolled with Kevin Love, J.R. Smith and Tristan Thompson.
“I kind of know the narrative throughout the season if we lose,” said James. “If we have a bad month, I already know what’s going to happen on the outside world. I’ve been a part of it. If we win, I know the narrative. I get it. It’s all a part of the storyline. But me personally, I don’t really get involved in it. I’m kind of over that at this point in my career.”