He drives through the lane with explosive force like a running back. Initiating contact, as the ball careens off the backboard and into the net, LeBron James heads to the free-throw line.
With his hairline receding, he no longer pays attention as the headband has been removed from his cranium.
Effortlessly, James sinks the free throw to convert the And-1 opportunity. That was game one of the series against the Atlanta Hawks in the Eastern Conference Finals. Four games later, only converting one of four free throws, James and the Cleveland Cavaliers find themselves in the NBA Finals for the first time since 2006-2007.
In 2010, after losing to the Boston Celtics in the second round and pending free agency, James made his decision to take his “talents to South Beach” as the saying goes. Five seasons later, LeBron finds himself in a situation like the one he and the Cavaliers were in during the 2007 playoffs. Only this time,however, the team LeBron and the Cavs face in the Finals look to be a well-rounded team with a pair of three-point specialists — the Golden State Warriors.
What LeBron did wasn’t a betrayal to the city of Cleveland, but a terminator “I’ll be back statement.” And not just “I’ll be back,” but an “I’ll be back and we’ll win the whole damn thing this time.”
He took off to get better, mentally and physically. James found a winning atmosphere in his time in Miami and found a way to take what he learned back to Cleveland, which could ultimately be what gives the Cavs the edge over the Warriors.
James is on the cusp of proving why he deserves to be the greatest player of this generation.
Throughout his first time around with the Cavs, the central focus was on James. Not like it isn’t now, but at the time he was singlehandedly producing wins for the squad and it wasn’t getting the job done. In Miami he had supplements like Dwayne Wade, Chris Bosh, and Mario Chalmers.
His time away from the Cavaliers allowed them time to rebuild and find another central focus. That player is Kyrie Irving.
Now with the help of Kyrie Irving (who currently isn’t one-hundred percent), JR Smith, Iman Shumpert, Timofey Mozgov, and Tristan Thompson, the spotlight doesn’t shine so bright on James this time around.
One name that wasn’t added to the aforementioned list of supplements was Kevin Love. Love, out since game 4 against the Celtics in the first round due to a dislocated shoulder, served as an unclear role in the starting five in the regular season in which he posted 16.4 points and 9.7 rebounds per game.
It wasn’t so much Love himself that was the issue, however, he just didn’t seem to fit at first. As the season progressed his shooting from outside as well as defense. Compared to his .456 FG percentage, .382 3pt %, 8.6 RPG, and .832 per game in November. The month of February saw Love’s all-around game in full flight showing improvement with .443 FG%, .448 3PT %, 9.7 RPG, and .758 FT%.
David Blatt took a little while to figure out how to use Love to full efficiency. After using Love in different ways, the low block, pick and roll, and shooting threes, he seemed to adapt better to his surroundings. Although his presence wasn’t felt moving through the playoffs, he certainly played a role in helping the Cavaliers find a spot in the post season. Love even said “I feel like I’m still a big part of it,” referring to the Cavaliers playoff run to the finals.
What lies ahead of James is the very feat that he plans to accomplish– leading the Cavaliers to a ring. To complete challenge LeBron faces, however, is easier said than done especially with Stephen Curry standing in the way.
There’s something about when Curry knocks down a 24-foot jumper unconventionally – his body not squared up to the basket, chirping ‘short’ when it’s actually wet – is what makes him one of the most lethal individuals in the game today. He only needs to hit one three to heat up.
If LeBron has supplements of Smith, Irving, and Sumpert that seem fearsome, the aid of Harrison Barnes, Draymond Green, Andrew Bogut, and Klay Thompson to Curry is overwhelming.
There are two trains of thought that give the Warriors the advantage. Despite having home-court advantage, their record of 7-1 at home and 5-2 on the road during the playoffs isn’t significant enough to waver their advantage overall. But what does make a significant impact is the Warriors bench depth. Now with Irving not fully healthy, the Cavaliers really find themselves in a predicament. Points wise on both teams Curry and James both lead their respective teams, but James leads the Cavaliers in every category except for blocks. Curry tops points, assists, and steals for the Warriors.
What may deem most revealing is the fact the Cavaliers had a much easier path to the Finals than the Warriors. Cleveland swept the Celtics in the first round, took the Bulls to six in the second, and demolished an Atlanta Hawks team by a score of 13.25 points per game.
Golden State swept the Pelicans in the first round, which was the first time the Pelicans reached the post season since 2010-2011. The second round they had to prove themselves against the Memphis Grizzlies, a team who had a possibility to win it all. Finally, they made their statement against James Harden and the Rockets. Now it’s time for the deepest team in the league to match up against LeBron.
It’s easier to frustrate LeBron James and throw him off of his game, but he’s still able to drive to the hole like Marshawn Lynch. If he is indeed phased, someone is getting hurt. Curry on the other hand, the more you push his buttons, the more deadly he becomes.
So the Golden State Warriors have a chance to win the NBA title for the first time in 45 years and a good one at that.
Word on the street is Warriors in 5. LeBron and the Cavaliers might find themselves coming up short once again. Steph is LeBron’s biggest road block and deference may be the Cavaliers only option.