With both Conference Finals merely playing ceremonial games from here on out, true basketball fans will be soon treated to an NBA Finals between the Golden State Warriors and the Cleveland Cavaliers that offers everything a basketball junkie could wish for.
Maybe I shouldn’t use the words “fans”, because some people who consider themselves fans have been regurgitating some very silly statements over the last few weeks. Perhaps the better term might be basketball scholars, as in those people that actually understand what it is that they’re seeing. Because true hoops scholars will delight in this year’s championship series, while the uninformed will find some moronic avowal to cling to.
Among the fatuous declarations I heard during these playoffs were that James Harden was overrated, and that the only reason he puts up such great numbers is because he’s given a green light by Houston’s head coach Kevin McHale. I've also heard that Harden is the reason why Houston is getting smoked by the Warriors.
Another ridiculous one was that Golden State was not a true title contender because they’re too reliant on their guards shooting jump shots. Other frivolous proclamations included these gems: Doc Rivers can’t coach, Chris Paul can’t win and LeBron is not great, among others.
LeBron’s performance last night proved, once again, for those that understand what they are watching, why he is among the best basketball players of all-time. His ability to elevate others and lift a team, while maximizing his own teammates' limited skill sets is a marvel in and of itself.
If someone had told you that without Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving, James would take a nucleus of Matthew Dellavadova, Timofey Mozgov, Tristan Thompson, J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert to the NBA Finals this year, you would have had a difficult time believing it unless you have a true comprehension of LeBron’s brilliance.
The radiant luminosity of his genius was on full display last night in Cleveland’s 114-111 overtime victory in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Atlanta Hawks. There are very few players, in the historical context, who can miss their first ten shots and yet still exert their will on a game.
Most people think Lebron’s worth can be determined by what they see in the scoring column. Despite his prolific scoring numbers, that is only the tip of the iceberg in understanding his true greatness.
The mere fact that the Cavs are up 3-0 against a very good Hawks team that compiled the league’s second-best regular season record this year is a testament to his very rare skill of being a virtuoso and a facilitator simultaneously. His fingerprints are all over every facet of the game.
The combination of his 37 points, 18 rebounds and 13 assists last night was mesmerizing because, in accumulating that absurd stat line, he struggled through numerous injuries, exhaustion and a cringe-worthy overall shooting performance. But he willed himself, and his team, through the sheer force of his hunger, to the brink of sweeping Atlanta and an appearance in his fifth consecutive NBA Finals.
Basketball, as much as the juvenile fan doesn’t seem to grasp this, is a team game.
And no modern baller, with the exception of Jason Kidd with the New Jersey Nets – when he took a limited squad of Kenyon Martin, Kerry Kittles, Keith Van Horn, Richard Jefferson, Todd MacCullough, Lucious Harris, Aaron Williams, Jason Collins and 157-year-old Dikembe Mutombo to the NBA Finals in 2002 and 2003 – has been able to elevate a team of role players to the precipice of the promised land in quite the same way that LeBron has done with this team.
This undermanned team is so ludicrously dependent on LeBron that they had no business beating Chicago or Atlanta. And they will have no business beating Steph Curry and the Golden State Warriors, who have been breakdancing toward a title all year, in the NBA Finals.
I laughed all year at people screaming that Golden State was fool’s gold. Their transition offense, defensive acumen and ball movement has been historically magnificent. Steph Curry is the most mesmerizing offensive talent as a ball-handler, passer and scorer combination since Pistol Pete Maravich.
We have not seen an offense this beautiful in its fluidity and breathtaking pace since Magic Johnson’s Showtime Lakers. The scary thing is that they’re still evolving and haven’t reached their potential yet.
This Cleveland Cavaliers team, with a hobbled Kyrie Irving and an inactive Kevin Love, will have no business beating the Warriors in the Finals. But with LeBron being LeBron, don’t be surprised if it happens.