LeBron stamps his authority as Cavs head to the NBA Finals

David Friedman Columnist

By David Friedman, David Friedman is a Roar Expert

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    LeBron and the Cavs are winning the summer. (Source: Wiki Commons)

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    Any talk of LeBron James’ decline has been proven somewhat premature. James averaged 30.3 ppg, 11.0 rpg, 9.3 apg and 1.5 spg while leading the Cleveland Cavaliers to a 4-0 rout of the Atlanta Hawks in the NBA Eastern Conference Finals.

    James led both teams in each of the aforementioned statistical categories and he became the first player in NBA playoff history to average at least 30 ppg, at least 11 rpg and at least 9 apg in a series.

    James may not have quite the lift that he used to — though it was hard to tell that when he took off from the dotted line and dunked in game four versus Atlanta — but he still has the ability to lift himself and his teammates above everyone else in the Eastern Conference.

    James is the only player who did not play for the Bill Russell-era Boston Celtics to make it to five straight NBA Finals. Say what you want about the disparity in strength between the conferences over the past few years, but James has accomplished something very special.

    His career has included three distinct phases. In the first phase, he could do no wrong. He gave the once-moribund Cavaliers instant credibility and he led them to the 2007 NBA Finals.

    However, the San Antonio Spurs swept the Cavaliers that year and James was unable to bring the Cavaliers back to the championship round, despite the fact that they had the best team in the league in 2009 and 2010. James’ puzzling passivity at key times during playoff games and his inability to either post up or consistently make jump shots prevented him from taking the final step to greatness.

    After James bolted for Miami, he had a subpar performance in the 2011 NBA Finals and it seemed reasonable to wonder if he would ever figure out how to use his talents to lead a team all the way to a championship.

    During this second phase of James’ career — from 2008 to 2011 — the narrative shifted from James being a player destined for greatness to James possibly being a player who might never quite figure out the championship formula.

    But then something clicked. James finally understood that to win a title he had to assert himself as a scorer and take over games and series. He could not lay back and observe. He had to attack.

    In order to do that, he improved his jump shot and he added a post up game to his repertoire. Now, daring James to shoot and daring James to score were no longer viable options for the opposing team.

    That new mindset resulted in James leading the Heat to back-to-back titles, marking the third phase of his career.

    When James returned to Cleveland in the summer of 2014, he vowed to complete unfinished business and bring the city its first professional sports championship since 1964.

    After a slow start by James individually and the team collectively during the regular season, the Cavaliers have come on strong.

    James has been dominant during the playoffs, scoring at least 30 points in seven of Cleveland’s 14 playoff games. The Cavs won all seven of those games and they are 12-2 overall in the postseason.

    The only blemish on James’ 2015 playoff statistical resume is his shooting. His career playoff field goal percentage is .477 — including a career-high .565 last year with Miami — but this season he is shooting just .428, his worst percentage since 2008.

    Normally, that is not a good enough field goal percentage for the best player on a championship team and (spoiler alert) I do not think that James will lead Cleveland to victory over the eventual Western Conference champion.

    However, James has had a major impact in almost every playoff game, even when he’s shot poorly.

    His worst performance was probably Cleveland’s Game 6 closeout win versus Chicago in the second round. James shot just 7-23 from the field and scored a 2015 playoff low 15 points, but he also had 11 assists and nine rebounds. He played strong defence.

    Golden State has been the team of the year from day one and will most likely win the championship, but during the 2015 playoffs James has provided notice that he is still a dominant player.

    David Friedman
    David Friedman

    David Friedman has covered the NBA for more than a decade, and in doing so, has interviewed nearly two dozen members of the NBA's 50 Greatest Players List. You can find his work at 20SecondTimeout.

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    The Crowd Says (5)

    • May 28th 2015 @ 3:23pm
      Oroboros said | May 28th 2015 @ 3:23pm | ! Report

      Does that mean you’re picking the Cavaliers over the Warriors?

      Anyway, I originally thought you would divide LBJ’S career this way:
      2003-2008: Wunderkind
      Young rare talent who hadn’t matured enough, skills wise and leadership wise.

      2008-2014: MVP
      Put it all together with dominant seasons, 4 MVPs in 5 years, lead his team on deep playoff runs.

      2014-?: King
      Slight erosion in athletic ability, but superior leadership keeps his teams playing deep in June.

      • Columnist

        May 29th 2015 @ 2:44am
        David Friedman said | May 29th 2015 @ 2:44am | ! Report

        Oroboros:

        No, I am sticking with the Warriors.

        Your delineation of the three stages of LeBron’s career is also a good one. I just think that after LeBron led the Cavs to the Finals and got swept, the expectations changed. Also, that series put LeBron’s weaknesses (tendency to play passively against elite opponents at times, inconsistent perimeter shot, inability and/or unwillingness to post up) on display. It took a while for James to address those weaknesses, so even though he emerged as the league’s best regular season player and won several MVPs he still lacked what it took to win championships (which is why the Celtics, Lakers and Mavs won titles from 2008-2011).

        • May 29th 2015 @ 2:56am
          Oroboros said | May 29th 2015 @ 2:56am | ! Report

          The reason I went with this delineation is because it will be the most likely breakdown after his career is over, as long LBJ doesn’t hang on long past his prime.

          It is true that even during his MVP seasons LBJ still had a few lessons to learn, but that is also true for many other MVP players in the past who failed to win the title in the same season. KD. Rose. Bryant. Nash. To name a few.

          Now I think LBJ will maintain his level of production a few more seasons, but the MVP narrative will not return as long there are other media sexy players like Curry, and Davis or Griffin in the future.

    • Columnist

      May 29th 2015 @ 10:20am
      David Friedman said | May 29th 2015 @ 10:20am | ! Report

      Oroboros:

      I agree with you that the MVP narrative may have passed James by, which is a shame. I have always thought that the MVP should go to the best player, not the so-called best story. Guys like Bryant and James and even Jordan have all been shortchanged in the MVP voting because the media wanted to recognize a story as opposed to voting for the best player.

    • May 29th 2015 @ 11:22am
      joe said | May 29th 2015 @ 11:22am | ! Report

      Good article.I actually think regardless of shooting numbers this may be his best overall performance the way he is so controlling of the game.Its a pleasure to watch such a great player at the height of his power.
      Lebron’s court vision & passing ability is amazing.It allows others on the Cavs team play to a higher level than they are normally accustomed to.
      The Warriors are a pretty solid favorite to win the title,more than I thought they would be anyways.Part of that is due to having homecourt advantage,but they’re a decent favorite nonetheless.
      I really believe Cleveland gets a split in the first 2 games at GS.
      The weeks rest before Game 1 next Thursday night will benefit Kyrie Irving immensely & the Cavs need him close to 100% to have a legit chance of winning the title.
      The NBA hit the jackpot getting the Warriors/Cavs in Finals, this should be a great series.A ton of storylines & 2 teams that I always like to watch.I don’t really care who wins but all the games will be must see.

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