LeBron James has always been a great player. No one could ever deny it. We always assumed that he would become a top 5 player of all-time, but something just always seemed off. The talent was there, but the accomplishments were kind of suspect: 2-4 in the Finals, willingly teaming up with two elite players in their prime instead of staying and building a championship team in Cleveland, getting his coach fired, mentally checking out of game 5 against Boston in 2010 when the Cavs needed him, and the perception of him being “anti-clutch.” There was a lot of evidence to question his legacy and whether he would solidify himself as one of the all-timers. That was even the case up until game 4 of these Finals. LeBron played passively and didn’t seem to understand the urgency of winning another game in Cleveland to tie up the series. Could they really go down 3-1 and rally back? No one else in history had ever done that! This would have to be an unprecedented feat against the team that just went 73-9 in the regular season. When the Cavs lost game 4 with LeBron playing passively, I tweeted that he tarnished his legacy and those same questions about him being great, but not a top 5 persisted.
Those questions are gone.
LeBron’s performance over the next 3 games cemented his legacy as a top 5 player all-time. Game 5, which should go down as the LeBron/Kyrie game, was unreal. LeBron came out aggressive and desperate, finishing with 41 points, 16 rebounds, 7 assists, 3 steals, and 3 blocks. He literally would not let the Cavaliers lose and gave it everything.
Game 6 was even more impressive and personally, I feel like this was his best game ever in his career (Second: Game 6 vs. Boston in the 2012 Eastern Conference Finals, 3rd Game 5 of these Finals, and 4th, 48 points vs. Detroit). He finished with a lesser stat line: 41 points, 11 assists, 8 rebounds, 4 steals, 3 blocks, but it just felt like he was in control at all times and Draymond Green was on the court, unlike in game 5. The desperation of the moment, the all-around brilliance, and the level of play he was at was like nothing we’d ever seen from LeBron. He seemed determined to go back to the Oracle for the most anticipated game 7 ever: The most prolific offensive player this season playing with the juggernaut that had steamrolled the entire league this year versus the one man dynasty that is LeBron James, the reigning best player on the planet. You can’t get any better than that.
Game 7 started off tumultuously: LeBron, again, looked passive and seemed to take a backseat to Kyrie Irving. LeBron eventually finished with a nice 27 points, 11 rebounds, 11 assists, 2 steals, and 3 blocks, but he also had 5 turnovers, shot a mere 37.5% from the field, and a horrific 20% from three. This wasn’t the same LeBron that was a force in games 5 and 6. But ultimately, it was LeBron that won this championship for Cleveland.
First, he switched onto Draymond Green in the second half. In the first half, Draymond was unreal, scoring 22 points, grabbing 6 rebounds, and dishing out 5 assists while shooting 80% from the field and going 5 for 5 from three. LeBron was able to slow him down in the second half, only allowing 10 points, 9 rebounds, and 4 assists and lowering his field goal percentage to 60% while holding him to 1 for 3 from three (33%).
Second, LeBron had 11 of his 15 second half points in the fourth quarter. He put the team on his shoulders and led them like greats do. He may not have been brilliant, but he got the job done.
Third, he had a play that may be the defining play of his career and will go down as one of the greatest Finals plays ever. It will be shown with Jordan switching hands, Jordan’s last shot as a Bull, Magic’s baby skyhook, Julius Erving going up and under for the layup, Ray Allen‘s three-pointer with Miami, and other memorable plays. It was the chasedown block on Andre Iguodala which was INSANE:
It was an amazing play at the right time that ensured that the Cavaliers would keep the momentum and sucked the life out of the crowd at the Oracle. That play will go down as one of the greatest in NBA Finals history. (Note: If he had completed that dunk on Draymond Green late in the fourth quarter, that would have been the greatest dunk in NBA Finals history. No…question)
We finally go to see what we were waiting for from LeBron James. He literally was “the king” of basketball over the last 3 games and finally cemented himself a top 5 player all-time. My Mount Rushmore of NBA talent has been Jordan, Kareem, Magic, and Russell and I think LeBron has leaped past Magic and Russell as third all-time. He has the rings, the accomplishments, and he has proven himself as one of the great players ever. Being the greatest is out of reach regardless of what Jay Williams might think, but he definitely has a shot at #2. He finally has done the things that even the harshest critics have been dying to see and has become the defining player of this generation. He has cemented his legacy.