If you’ve missed any of this remarkable Finals series between the Cavs and the Warriors, to quote the Korean grocer from Menace II Society, “I feel sorry for your mother.”
To not watch it is one travesty, but to actually see it and not understand what is unfolding before our very eyes borders on the criminally negligent.
The very first thing that we need to qualify is that these are NOT two evenly-matched teams. To argue that they are would be the equivalent of saying that Ridley Scott’s The Counselor is on par with one of his other films, Thelma and Louise.
Whereas Thelma and Louise was an outstanding movie with nuanced characters and a cohesive plot, The Counselor, with its horrifyingly bad writing, terrible acting and disemboweled and eviscerated plot, was the absolute worst film ever produced. It was so appallingly dreadful, it made Adam Sandler’s performance in Jack and Jill look like Jack Nicholson’s in Terms of Endearment.
But for the unsophisticated fan to watch this NBA Finals matchup, which Cleveland now leads 2-1 heading into tomorrow night’s critical Game 4, and actually believe this hallucinating mirage of two equal teams competing for the championship simply speaks to the obscene brilliance of one LeBron Raymone James.
What we are in fact witnessing is quite possibly the greatest illusion since David Blaine’s levitations, and an act of perplexing bewilderment that hasn’t been pulled off since Verbal Kint mystified Customs Agent Dave Kujan with his mendacity and deceptive recollections of Keyser Soze in the classic film, The Usual Suspects.
Last night’s 96-91 victory for the wounded and woefully undermanned Cavaliers – where LeBron once again astonished even the most seasoned hoops observers with a continuation of what is perhaps the most exceptional Finals performance in history with his 40 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists – was another improbable chapter in what is shaping up to be one of the most exhilarating championship series’ I’ve ever experienced, right along with the Heat and the Spurs in 2013, the Lakers and the Pistons in 1988, the Celtics and the Lakers in 1984 and the Lakers and the Sixers in 1980.
What makes LeBron’s performances so remarkable, and the fact that his team has the upper hand right now against a Golden State team that has been historically great all season, is that this Cleveland team is one of the worst squads, in terms of supporting talent, that any superstar has ever gone into a Finals battle with.
The only squads on par, in terms of LeBron having no true superstars and modest, merely adequate role players at his disposal due to the season-ending injuries to All-Stars Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving, are the Jason Kidd-led New Jersey Nets in 2002 and 2003, Allen Iverson’s Philadelphia crew in 2001, Rick Barry's 1975 Warriors and James’ own 2007 Cavaliers team.
LeBron’s three-game total of 123 points are the most ever scored by one player through the first three games of an NBA Finals. But that merely scratches the surface of his impact. His defense, rebounding and passing skills are astounding.
And with all due respect to Chris Paul, Steph Curry, Russell Westbrook, Kyle Lowry, John Wall, Damian Lillard, Mike Conley, Jeff Teague and Tony Parker, LeBron also happens to be the league’s best and most unstoppable point guard as well, when he’s not handling his other duties as a shooting guard, small forward and power forward, or guarding centers in the paint as well on occasion.
Matthew Dellavedova has risen to the occasion in Kyrie’s absence and his defense had been outstanding. Timofey Mozgov has destroyed Andrew Bogut and Festus Ezili down low and Tristan Thompson’s rebounding and defense against Draymond Green have made the former Michigan State star’s face appear on milk cartons in the Midwest and on the west coast under the headline, “MISSING, IF SEEN PLEASE CALL STEVE KERR.”
But if you remove King James from this team, and insert, oh, let’s say J.R. Smith as a starter in his place, even in a feeble Eastern Conference, this Cavs squad is counting lottery balls and wishing for Kentucky’s Karl-Anthony Towns or Duke’s Jahlil Okafor in the upcoming NBA Draft.
If you remove the league MVP, Stephen Curry, from the Warriors roster and insert Shaun Livingston as the team’s point guard, they still make the playoffs in a robust Western Conference.
For folks that are berating Curry for Golden State being down and looking suspect in this series, they are woefully mistaken. He had a bad shooting night in Game 2 and struggled early last night, but his 17-point outburst in the fourth quarter was MVP-like, bringing them back from a 20-point deficit to nearly snatch the win. He finished with 27 points, six rebounds, six assists and three steals, but his six turnovers were problematic.
The real question for Golden State, who got 13 fantastic minutes from David Lee off the bench, in yet another performance from a former Knick that had New Yorkers swearing like Joe Pesci’s Nicky Santoro in Casino, is how to inspire Harrison Barnes, Draymond Green and Andrew Bogut to play angry and efficient on the offensive end.
If the Warriors want to even this series up tomorrow night, they better figure out how to counteract, if at all possible, the ferocious incandescence of LeBron, who has now scored, assisted or created 200 of the Cavaliers’ 291 points through the first three games of the series.
Please repeat that last sentence again and just let it hang in the air and marinate.
The Cavs have the Warriors wobbled, and another Cleveland win in Game 4 would be a brutal blow to what seemed like a certain championship waltz last week, when Kyrie Irving’s kneecap was fractured.
What we’re witnessing is beyond amazing. I hope folks appreciate it in all of its nuance and texture. Like Verbal Kint and Keyser Soze, this narrative and these performances are something straight out of The Usual Suspects. LeBron is, make no mistake about it, playing with the usual suspects.
And to paraphrase Verbal Kint, the greatest trick that LeBron has ever pulled, up to this point, has been convincing the world that Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love didn’t exist.