For the fourth time in seven years, the Cleveland Cavaliers will play in a game 6 to save their season. Three straight times they have lost. They lost on the road in 2009 to Orlando in the Eastern Conference Finals as they had no answer for Dwight Howard. They lost the next year in Boston and what still remains as perplexing and confusing a game for LeBron James as we will ever see; at times he seemed not to even care. That year was the LeBron walk away from his people year. Soon after that loss he and his management team would incredulously come up with the genius idea to break the city of Cleveland’s heart on national television. LeBron’s image has never quite recovered. And then there was last year in Game 6 when he couldn’t stop the bleeding. He alone wasn’t enough. The Cavs went down to the Warriors, saw them celebrate on their floor, heard their cheers and laughter and champagne soaked euphoria in the city he promised to bring a title to.
History isn’t kind to those who are the runner-up. History has not been kind to LeBron James as a loser. At every opportunity, he is beaten over the head with his Finals record and only because no player of his stature except Jerry West has a losing record in the Finals. The irony is that LeBron’s rep anoints him as greater than all of the hallowed players before him so another loss tonight, a 2-5 Finals record, will slow down the LeBron greater than everyone but MJ and Magic talk.
In his last three Game 6 elimination games as a Cav, all losses, this has been the LeBron James performance:
May 30th, 2009. Eastern Conference Finals. Cleveland 90, Orlando 103. LeBron played 44 minutes and, amazingly, it wasn’t the team high. Delonte West played 46 minutes. LeBron had a bad performance, shooting 40% and 25% from three. He missed four free throws, dragging his percentage down to 63%. He had 7 rebounds and 7 assists and 25 points, 13 points less than his 38 point series average.
In Game 6, he had the lowest plus-minus of all the starters, -12. His defensive rating was 120, the second worst of all the starters (Mo Williams was 123). He had 3 turnovers and 0 steals. The Cavs, who were never in the game, gave up 58 points in the first half but could only manage 40.
May 13th, 2010. Eastern Conference Semi-Finals. Cleveland 85, Boston 94. Trying to explain LeBron James performance in this game would take a neuropsychologist, someone who understood his internal brain structure and motivation. With everything on the line and free agency looming, LeBron was extraordinarily passive, to the point of seeming disinterested. Unlike the year before, the game was close. The Cavs were competing. LeBron going full throttle may have beaten the C’s.
The Cavs trailed by two points at the half. But only managed 18 points in the third and fourth quarters. LeBron only took 8 shots in the second half of a close game that, with a win, would send the Cavs to the Eastern Conference Finals.
LeBron played 46 minutes, shot a ghastly 38% but he had 19 rebounds and 10 assists. He also had 9 turnovers. He finished with 27 points. His defensive rating was the lowest on the team 92, a far cry from his Orlando performance. He assisted on 52% of the Cavs made baskets, rebounded 40% of the misses and it was one more example of how necessary he was for the Cavs and how without him, the following season, they were lost.
June 16, 2015. NBA Finals. Cleveland 97, Golden State 105. The last game in LeBron’s most courageous Finals appearance where he did almost everything, pushing his body to the brink because he didn’t have enough help and it was an unfair fight. Game 6 was when reality set in. One man can’t win a title. LeBron finally ran out of gas. The Cavs were exhausted and didn’t have the depth to chase the Warriors shooters.
LeBron played 46 minutes, 9 minutes more than any other starter (Tristan Thompson played 37 minutes). In a recurring Game 6 theme, he shot 39% and 20% from three. He only hit half of his free throws. His 18 rebounds, 9 assists and 2 steals were offset by his 6 turnovers. He had 32 points. His usage rate was 38%. The next closest was Timofey Mosgov, whose usage rate was 18.6%. It was LeBron or nothing. He was responsible for 49% of the Cavs assists, and even though he didn’t have Herculean rebounding duties, everything fell on his shoulders. The ending in Cleveland, the Warriors celebrating, was one more LeBron James NBA Finals Suffrage.
June 16th, 2016. NBA Finals. The fourth elimination Game 6 in a row for the Cavs. It leads them where exactly? The Cavs last three playoff exits have ended in a Game 6 heartbreak.
The Cavs are better suited this year than the other three (losing) years to pull out a win. But the Cavs still don’t have the depth of the Warriors whose slogan, “Strength in Numbers” is why they are the defending champions and are on the precipice of back-to-back titles.
No NBA title was ever won on the extraordinary effort of two players. LeBron and Wade needed Chris Bosh and Ray Allen. Tim Duncan and Tony Parker needed Manu Ginobli and Bruce Bowen. Kobe and Pau Gasol needed Lamar Odom and Metta World Peace. Kobe and Shaq needed Derek Fisher and Robert Horry.
So this is virgin territory for the Cavs, trying to get to Game 7 on the heroism of LeBron and Kyrie. And it is not.
The Cavs need to make history tonight with another epic performance from their best two players. It will be another Game 6 at the Q with everything on the line, just like last year. And just like last year, the Cavs performance has to be monumental, one for the ages. Not good. Not great. But extraordinary.
photo via llananba