LeBron James’ Historic Postseason May Not Be Enough To Overthrow A Big-4
Last year, the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors met in a rematch of the 2015 NBA Finals, which the Warriors had won 4-2. LeBron James made good on his promise to bring a title to Cleveland after overcoming a 3-1 deficit – the first team in NBA Finals history to do so. Following last year’s finals, the Warriors signed former MVP Kevin Durant as an attempt to once again reach the NBA’s promised land. The Warriors are currently the favorites to win this year’s finals, largely due to their being the first team since the NBA switched to a seven-game opening round to sweep through their conference.
But with 5,995 points scored in his playoff career, James is now the all-time leader in that statistical category. He passed Michael Jordan (5,987 playoff points) in the Eastern Conference Finals against Boston for the all-time lead. He also tied Jordan for consecutive games in the postseason of scoring 30 or more points, with eight straight games doing so. The only current player besides LeBron in the top 30 career playoff points is Kevin Durant. And he’s all the way down at 29th with 2,872. LeBron also passed Jordan for second in all-time playoff steals NBA & ABA Career Playoff Leaders and Records for Steals – currently sitting with 382 to Jordan’s 376 – and is within earshot of Scottie Pippen for first place with 395.
LeBron also ranks third in all-time playoff assists (1,439 NBA & ABA Career Playoff Leaders and Records for Assists), seventh in rebounds (1,862 NBA & ABA Career Playoff Leaders and Records for Total Rebounds), and third in three-pointers made (319 NBA & ABA Career Playoff Leaders and Records for 3-Pt Field Goals)
Through nine games this postseason, LeBron has averaged 32.5 points, 8 rebounds, 7 assists, 2.2 steals, and 1.4 blocks per game, while shooting almost 57% from the field and 42% from beyond the arc. While the Warriors are still undefeated this postseason, the Cavs lost just one game through the first three rounds of this year’s playoffs.
Despite how well LeBron has played this postseason, though, his Cavs are still the underdogs. And it’s hard not to expect that type of story line, because the Warriors are playing at such an historic rate, they may be the only combination of players, coaches, and training staffs that could defeat LeBron at this rate.
What this series will ultimately come down to is a series of match-ups.
Kyrie Irving vs. Steph Curry
Kevin Love vs. Draymond Green
LeBron James vs. Kevin Durant
And, of course…
J.R. Smith vs. Klay Thompson
Thompson has been all but silent for the Warriors through the first three rounds of the playoffs this year, averaging just 14.4 points, 3.5 rebounds, 2 assists, and 1 steal per game – including just two games this postseason in which he’s scored 20 or more. He’s also shooting just 38% from the field and even worse, 36% from beyond the arc. Thompson shoots about 42% throughout his career on threes, though, so it wouldn’t be unprecedented if he were to get back to at least 40% from deep in the finals.
The Cavs’ biggest problem (other than the fact that the Warriors basically substituted Durant for Thompson and Thompson for Harrison Barnes) will be getting productive minutes from their bench. In their three games from the Eastern Conference Finals that were decided by less than 30, they only received an average of 10 points per night from their reserves. I didn’t bother including the Cavs’ blowout wins against the Cavs because there was such a high amount of garbage time in those games it would have been ridiculous for the Cavs to not leave their bench players in for long periods of time.
Because Golden State has four All Stars in their starting lineup, including multi-positional players like Durant and Green, they have a lot of ways they can space out their reserves’ playing time, thus affording every player ample resting time. LeBron, on the other hand, has had to shoulder a large portion of the burden by playing about 41 minutes per game this postseason to help Cleveland advance. Although LeBron has shown no real signs of fatigue, and Cleveland has had a lot of time to rest ahead of the finals, there’s still no telling when the line in his tank will slump towards E. LeBron could start dealing with fatigue in Game 1 of this year’s finals, or it could come in Game 4. Hell, maybe we won’t see him running out of gas for another five years, but we just don’t know.
Cleveland will need more games like Kyrie’s 42-point performance in Game 4 against Boston in the ECF from other players, if they want to repeat as champs.
Kyrie has been heating up as the playoffs have continued. After shooting just 26.6 percent (16/60) from beyond the arc in the first nine games of the NBA’s second season, he’s been shooting 55 percent (15/27) in the last four. He’ll need to continue this upward trajectory if the Cavs want to win.
No matter how well Cleveland’s bench or other starters play, it will all come down to LeBron.
As for where LeBron ranks all-time in the NBA, it’ll be interesting to see how he and the Cavs do against the Warriors and their Big 4. LeBron may have to lead both teams in points, rebounds, assists, blocks, and steals if he wants to win the title again this year… but he’s done that before.
Regardless of who wins, two things are clear: one, LeBron will play at an elite level in all four, five, six, or seven games of this series, and two, it will be a great series. This is what the whole season boils down to, and Game 1 tips off Thursday night at 9:00 pm Eastern on ABC.