July 8, 2010, the night of "The Decision," seems like a lifetime ago. Honestly, in NBA terms, LeBron has lived two lifetimes since then, with his graduation to being a champion in Miami and, finally, his redemption in Cleveland coming full circle, bringing a beleaguered sports slum of a city its first title in decades.
On Sunday night, in a 93-89 Game 7 win in Oakland, LeBron James laid waste to the greatest regular season team in the history of the NBA, the 73-win Golden State Warriors. In the process, he shredded pages of the league's history book (the first team to overcome a 3-1 deficit in the NBA Finals) and devoured demons that have tormented Cleveland since the days of Jim Brown.
In one night (or, to be more factual, in these last three games), LeBron managed to take The Drive, The Fumble, Jose Mesa, the ghost of Art Modell and yes, even this, his own "Decision"...
...bundle them all into a nice little package and send them hurtling into space, never to be heard from again, like Superman disposing of General Zod and his cronies at the end of Superman 2. Ironically, LeBron left the rest of the NBA to "kneel before King James," for on Sunday night, he put forth his résumé fortifier when it comes time to compare him with the other all-time greats.
No longer do LeBron backers have to dissect rosters and get defensive in stating the case of their guy against the likes of Michael, Magic, Russell, Duncan, Kobe. They now have their "slap the paper down on the table and walk away" moment.
LeBron James came back from down 3-1 against the winningest team in history and closed it out on the road, redeeming an entire city and himself in the process. Checkmate.
Let's look at the winners and losers from last night...
4. Kyrie Irving
LeBron was stupendous again last night, with a triple double (27/11/11) to go with a blocked shot on Andre Iguodala in the waning minutes that will be the signature play from this game, but he didn't do it alone. Without Irving's 41 points in Game 5, this series is probably over after five games. When it came time for a cold-blooded shot to knock the Warriors out, it was Irving's freezing Steph Curry with a crossover and knocking down a 26 footer to put the Cavs up 92-89 with a minute to go Sunday night. LeBron has his running mate in Cleveland for the rest of his career, and his name is Kyrie Irving.
3. Kevin Love, the locker room bro
Win or lose last night, we knew we'd be heading into a dicey offseason for Kevin Love. In this series, he was just a really poor fit for the Cavs, although credit to him for some great defense down the stretch on Steph Curry to force an off-balance three-point miss. There's a good chance Love gets traded this offseason, but that doesn't mean this won't be one of the all-time great locker room celebration moments in sports history...
2. Tyronn Lue
Four games into the Finals, the Cavaliers' head coach was getting skewered for some of his decisions and the consensus was that Steve Kerr was winning the coaching matchup. Well, it's amazing how much smarter you get as the opposing coach when Curry's shots stop dropping and Irving and James can't miss, but to Lue's credit, he was fearless in a couple of his coaching decisions — shortening his bench to use only the players who had a chance to be "plus" match-ups for his team, and riding LeBron into the ground, which doesn't sound like a tough decision, but so many NBA coaches get dragged into thinking they MUST get their star players four minutes of rest at the beginning of the second and fourth quarters. James has all summer to rest, and Lue knew it.
1. LeBron James
Two years ago, he wrote a letter to Cleveland saying exactly why he wanted to come back:
I’m not promising a championship. I know how hard that is to deliver. We’re not ready right now. No way. Of course, I want to win next year, but I’m realistic. It will be a long process, much longer than it was in 2010. My patience will get tested. I know that. I’m going into a situation with a young team and a new coach. I will be the old head. But I get a thrill out of bringing a group together and helping them reach a place they didn’t know they could go. I see myself as a mentor now and I’m excited to lead some of these talented young guys. I think I can help Kyrie Irving become one of the best point guards in our league. I think I can help elevate Tristan Thompson and Dion Waiters. And I can’t wait to reunite with Anderson Varejao, one of my favorite teammates.
But this is not about the roster or the organization. I feel my calling here goes above basketball. I have a responsibility to lead, in more ways than one, and I take that very seriously. My presence can make a difference in Miami, but I think it can mean more where I’m from. I want kids in Northeast Ohio, like the hundreds of Akron third-graders I sponsor through my foundation, to realize that there’s no better place to grow up. Maybe some of them will come home after college and start a family or open a business. That would make me smile. Our community, which has struggled so much, needs all the talent it can get.
As it turns out, the process took the same amount of time as it did in Miami, and he's probably not done yet. People who look merely at the number of rings will say, "Michael has six, LeBron has three" and avoid an argument with any nuance to it. But let's keep in mind, LeBron is 31 years old, and showing no signs of slowing down.
Michael Jordan's total NBA titles at age 31? Three.
(Oh, and LeBron ended up beating Anderson Varejão, not teaming with him. Which is a little weird.)
4. Any of the Cavs fans in this video
I question anyone's chops as a functioning adult when he goes on television sobbing in another man's jersey about said man leaving in free agency. I would love to see a "Where Were They Last Night?" video of all these Cleveland folk. Odds on the percentage of them that were celebrating in the streets in LeBron gear...I'll put the over/under at 99.5 percent.
3. Faux "adversity"
Now, the one LeBron-related issue that I have (and this actually extends to other Cavaliers employees, coaches and players, who did the same thing — looking at you, Lue!) is when he refers to all of the "adversity" the team had to overcome throughout the season. Granted, down 3-1 against a 73-win team is, no doubt, adversity. However, let's not make it sound like your entire regular season and playoff up to that point was some six-month slog through the jungle with no food and water. The Cavs went 57-27 in the regular season, 12-2 in running through the East in the playoffs, and LeBron himself is the one who rubber-stamped the firing of head coach David Blatt to get the coach HE wanted. So ease up on the "adversity" talk. Philly...now THAT'S adversity.
2. Steph Curry
Curry will be back, but the last two series gave the league a window into how to slow him down — bang him around, get physical with him and try to get into matches where you have long, athletic wings switching onto him. It's not foolproof, and in an 82-game regular season, it's obviously harder to deploy. These last two series felt like both Oklahoma City and Cleveland were gradually becoming more self-aware on how to slow down Curry and the Warriors, a fascinating chess game to watch.
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1. Draymond Green
The script flipping on this series can be boiled down to one moment —
This series can be divided up into pre-J.S. and post-J.S. (J.S. stands for "junk shot"). When Green went out with his suspension for Game 5, the door opened for the Cavs ever so slightly, and LeBron James kicked it in.
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