LeBron James’ single greatest accomplishment would be winning four more games against either Golden State or Houston and taking the Larry O’Brien trophy back to Cleveland. Imagine that.
What he’s done thus far is remarkable: squeezing 12 playoff wins out of this Cleveland Cavaliers team, including a grind-it-out Game 7 victory at Boston on Sunday. But don’t be a prisoner of the moment. LeBron overcame a 3-1 deficit against the mighty 73-win Warriors two years ago. That included two wins at Oracle Arena and a performance for the ages in Game 7.
A year before winning the title, LeBron and the Cavs somehow won two games against the Warriors despite Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love injured. He’s done remarkable before.
This is what LeBron does. He’s capable of the seemingly impossible.
In his 100th game of the season James had 35 points, 15 rebounds, 9 assists and 8 turnovers in Game 7 to lead Cleveland back to its fourth straight NBA Finals. It is LeBron’s eighth straight Finals appearance.
“You expect him to get over the hump,” J.R. Smith said.
While Celtics coach Brad Stevens was rightfully being praised for getting the Celtics — minus Irving and Gordon Hayward — one game from winning the Eastern Conference Finals, the Celtics inexperience showed when it counted.
They went 1-7 on the road in the playoffs and lost the last two games to Cleveland despite Love being unavailable the final seven quarters of the series with a concussion.
In the end, LeBron’s genius trumps any coaching genius.
“I mean, the bigger the stage, the bigger the player, and he’s been doing it for us since we’ve been here,” said Cavs coach Ty Lue. “The great quote from the great Doc Rivers is, ‘You always want to go into the Game 7 with the best player,’ and we have the best player on our team going into a Game 7. I like our chances. And he delivered again.”
The young Celtics wilted in the biggest moment of their season. LeBron? He’s won six straight Game 7s including the last two on the road.
And in this Game 7 the 33-year-old James played all 48 minutes for the first time in 12 years.
LeBron scored 12 fourth-quarter points while five teammates accounted for the other 16. Overall, the four starters not named LeBron scored 47 points.
After Jayson Tatum’s three gave Boston its final lead at 72-71 with six minutes left, Jeff Green answered with a three and LeBron set up Tristan Thompson with a dunk. Meanwhile, Boston went nearly 5:30 before producing another field goal.
This season was unlike any other this decade for LeBron. Irving forced a trade in August and the Cavs revamped their roster in February by moving Isaiah Thomas, Dwyane Wade, Jae Crowder and Derrick Rose.
Of the four players Cleveland acquired at the deadline — George Hill, Larry Nance Jr. Jordan Clarkson, Rodney Hood — only Hill scored in the fourth quarter on Sunday.
“It’s been roses,” James said. “There have been thorns. There’s been everything that you can ask for. I’ve said this has been one of the most challenging seasons I’ve had.”
This isn’t a great team by any stretch of the imagination. The Cavs will be heavy underdogs against either Golden State or Houston.
Playing in the East has its perks. The Pacers, who took Cleveland to seven games, is like the Celtics: young and inexperienced. The Raptors, as they’ve done before, imploded against LeBron and the Celtics didn’t have Kyrie.
The competition out West is tougher. That’s been proven by LeBron’s 3-5 record in the Finals. But that doesn’t diminish the journey or LeBron’s greatness.
Because of LeBron the journey ends in June at the NBA Finals. We have seen some of LeBron’s best work this postseason and there is more to be done.
Another four wins completes the greatest postseason run in NBA history. It would also place LeBron in rarified air.