For the seventh consecutive season, Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James will appear in the NBA Finals – an impressive feat. James has reached the finals with both the Cavs, but also the Miami Heat. In those seven straight finals appearances, James has come out with the trophy three times. Those appearances, coupled with his 2007 Finals loss to the San Antonio Spurs, make James’ record in the NBA Finals 3-5. While that winning percentage isn’t all too great, in two of those seasons where he endured defeat, the pieces around him weren’t that lethal. However, this year James has no excuse when it comes to facing the Golden State Warriors – when it comes to his own roster – in the rubber match of a three year set in the month of June. In fact, the 2017 NBA Finals will be the defining series of LeBron James’ legacy.
After their remarkable comeback versus them last year, in which they where down 3-1 in the series, the Cavaliers have made it back to the NBA Finals to matchup with the Warriors for the third straight year. Their road to get back to this point though, was a walk in the park – for the most part.
Despite finishing the year with a 51-31 record, the Cavs were still able to claim the second seed in the Eastern Conference; they would make their seeding meaningless.
In their first round matchup with the Indiana Pacers, the Cavs were able to sweep the Paul George lead hoosiers. The most rememberable game from their first round sweep though, was overcoming a 26 point deficit in game three. Their ability to fight back showed how James and Cavs had the composure and drive to overcome a massive lead. After roaring back in game three and closing out the series in game four, the Cavs plowed their way through the Toronto Raptors too.
Despite the presence of their crafty backcourt, featuring Kyle Lowry and DeMar Derozan, the Cavs steamrolled the three seeded Raptors. With James leading the way with 36.0 points per game in the series, the Cavs were able to sweep the Raptors and advance to the Eastern Conference finals.
After making quick work of the Pacers and Raptors, the Cavs were faced with the challenge of knocking off the top seeded Boston Celtics – a challenge which they overcame, but in bizarre fashion.
Combining for a total 70 points, James and forward Kevin Love helped lift the Cavs to a 117-104 game one victory; the Cavs would then use their game one momentum to embarrass the Celtics on their home court in game two.
Getting out to a 41 point halftime lead and going up by as much as 51 in the second half, the Cavs blew out the Celtics in beantown, by the score of 130-86. Then, after their game two travesty, the Celtics were dealt another blow, losing point guard Isaiah Thomas for the rest of the postseason with a hip injury. The Celtics though, would retaliate in game three – something no one envisioned transpiring.
Despite the absence of Thomas, the Celtics overcame a 21 point second half lead, and ultimately came out on top in the final moments, via Avery Bradley‘s buzzer beating three pointer. The Celtics surprising game there victory gave many the impression that the Cavs could be in serious trouble heading into game four – which they were for the majority of the night.
After James got into serious foul trouble in the first half, the Cavs fell into a 16 point first half hole – a hole which they had to pull themselves out of in order to take back control of the series. Led by point guard Kyrie Irving‘s 42 points, they were able to do just that. Overcoming their intimating first half deficit, the Cavs fought back to win by the score of 112-99. Their confidence boosting game four victory, helped Cleveland punch their ticket to the finals in game five.
After two straight nerve-wracking games for them on their home court, the Cavs took care of business on the road in convincing fashion. Winning by a whopping 33 points, James (who contributed 35 points) and the Cavs put the Celtics to bed, winning the series in five games. After doing so they’ll now face off with the Warriors, in what will be the most crucial series of James’ legacy. That’s due to the roster and notion Golden State has surrounded itself with in 2017.
Last year, the Cavs stunned the Warriors and the NBA world by coming back down three games to one to beat them. However, despite winning 73 games, the Warriors found ways to improve themselves even more in the summer, but most notably with one key addition.
By robbing Oklahoma City of its homegrown Kevin Durant, the Warriors were able to add one of three best players in the basketball world, to go along with what was already arguably the most talented team in the association. With two time MVP point guard Stephen Curry, as well as two-way star Klay Thompson and the versatile Draymond Green already present, the addition of Durant only added to the firepower they possessed.
Since his signing, Durant has been everything and anything the Warriors had hoped for.
Posting 25.1 points per game, alongside Curry, Durant helped form the most lethal and unstoppable scoring duo in the NBA. Many can also credit Durant’s addition for allowing the Warriors to sweep their way to the Finals as well.
Despite winning six fewer games than they did last year, the Warriors dominated postseason play at a historic level. By sweeping the Portland Trail Blazers and Utah Jazz in the first two rounds, the Warriors helped give themselves an overwhelming amount of momentum going into their Conference Final matchup with the San Antonio Spurs – where they would accomplish an incredible feat.
After going 8-0 in the first two rounds, the Warriors were able to finish off the Western Conference by sweeping the Spurs, making their presence known. By overcoming a 44-19 deficit in the first half of game one, the Warriors showed their ability to play from behind, no matter the amount. After their record setting comeback, the Warriors cruised the rest of the way.
Winning game two 136-100 on their home court, the Warriors put the Spurs in a must-win scenario going back home; however, the Spurs were unable to prevail. Scoring over 120 points in both affairs in San Antonio, the Warriors were able to sweep the Spurs, punching their ticket to the Finals for the third consecutive year. Them doing so though, was with an asterisk.
While they did overcome a significant deficit in game one and ultimately went on to win the series, the Warriors ability to do so was affected partially by the injury to Spurs’ forward Kawhi Leonard. After holding a 21 point second half lead, the Spurs were dealt a major blow with an ankle injury to their MVP candidate (Leonard); his loss essentially ended this series.
With Leonard’s unfortunate injury, which occurred in game one, the Warriors were finally able to get in a groove and win game one and then get back to the Finals. One must wonder if, had he never endured his ankle injury, whether the presence of Leonard would’ve altered the Conference Finals?
If he never underwent his ankle injury, the Spurs likely would’ve held onto their immense game one lead and stollen home court from the Warriors. That in itself, could’ve changed this series. However, while his presence could’ve allowed the Spurs to win potentially two, maybe three games, you would’ve been hard pressed to find someone who truly thought the Spurs could defeat the Warriors in a seven game series. Regardless of what could’ve and may have been though, the reality is that the Warriors won the Conference Finals and will be heading to the NBA Finals this Thursday. Bottom line.
The Warriors presence though, isn’t the biggest strioyline in this upcoming series.
Despite them sweeping their way to this point, the Warriors are not the biggest going into this series; however, they do play a major role in that development – that being James’ legacy as one of the greatest to ever play the game.
Two years ago, James and the Cavs matched with the Warriors, but at an unfair time. With Love being out for the remainder of the postseason with a shoulder injury and Irving undergoing a leg injury in game one of the Finals, the Cavs were undermanned in the 2015 NBA Finals. Despite the Cavs’ injury woes though, James was able to give the Warriors a run for their money.
Winning games two and three, James and the Cavs scared the Warriors early on. The Warriors though, changed their fortunates real quick. Holding them to under 100 points for their next three contests versus them, the Warriors were able to limit the Cavs’ offensive attack, which was key to their Finals’ victory. Despite their series loss though, James had to be given credit for the heroic he put forth in every game.
Based on the fact that they were relying on second and third tier players such as point guard Matthew Dellavedova and center Timofey Mozgov, the Cavs stood little to no chance to begin with. However regardless of them relying on lesser known players, James was able to push the series to six games; him doing so versus the likes of Curry, Thompson, Green and company, showed just how great he truly is. The ensuing year though, James was able to finally deliver a ring to his hometown.
Last year, James continued to show just how great he is by leading the charge in the final three games of the Finals to beat the Warriors. Him doing so, was arguably the greatest feat of his career. However, winning it all this year would be an even more remarkable accomplishment, but it could also serve as the end of his era as King.
With the addition of Durant in Golden State, the Warriors starting five is without a doubt the most lethal unit in the game; them sweeping the Western Conference furthers that notion. The question now becomes, can the Cavs be the first team to fully challenge the them? The answer to that is unknown, due in part to their two matchups versus them in the regular season, in which they won by one at home, but also lost by 35 in Golden State. In addition to their misleading affairs with the Warriors in the regular season though, James’ is also playing in a series headlined by three superstars: himself, Curry, Durant. While James has defeated both Durant and Curry in the Finals, he’s never taken them both down at once in a series – which will prove to be a daunting task. The biggest issue win or lose with James though, is that both Curry and Durant are likely to resign with the Warriors in the offseason.
Despite them hitting free agency, odds are that Curry and Durant will both resign with Golden State this offseason. If they do so after potentially winning the Finals, James will have held his final trophy. Despite being the best player in the NBA and having two established and formidable assets with Irving and Love by his side, the age of James as the king of the NBA will come to a halting end if he cannot beat Golden State.
Based on the fact that Curry and Durant are both in their primes and James is turning 33 in December, the tables could be permanently turned. If and when they re-sign, both Curry and Durant will be still be in their primes, whereas James will be turning 33 next season. James cannot let them resign without, at the very least, beating them in the Finals once.
Despite the firepower that the Warriors possess, James and the Cavs have a fair chance at winning the chip this year. With the presence of James alone, put together with the rest of their high octane starting five and deep bench, the Cavs have a proven and well rounded roster. At the end of the day though, whether they win the chip or not will be on the shoulders of James.
If James can lead the Cavs to another championship, it’ll be the biggest accomplishment of his career, and one that may very well put him over Michael Jordan, in regards to being the GOAT. However, if James cannot do so, his age as King will come to an end, and the Warriors will take the helm. The fear and potential for that to transpire will make this series the defining one of James’ career.
CLEVELAND, OH – JUNE 16: LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers reacts while taking on the Golden State Warriors in Game 6 of the 2016 NBA Finals at Quicken Loans Arena on June 16, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)