Seven straight trips to the NBA Finals, 8 Finals appearances, an automatic berth in the championship round just by writing the LBJ name on the stat sheet, and yet crazily LeBron James is in a place he has never been in his career. The most extraordinary of all streaks may come to an end today. The rebuilt on the fly Indiana Pacers can change the present and future of LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. This may be LeBron James last game in Cleveland.
No one who has a brain thinks so but it is a game 7 and strange things happen in closeouts. I remember Allen Houston’s New York Knicks team winning a closeout game 5 in Miami to stun Pat Riley and the Heat. I remember the Sacramento Kings who were the best team in basketball in 2001-02 suddenly playing like the ball weighed five hundred pounds in game 7. The moment was so big they failed and denied themselves and the organization light at the end of a dark, bleeding tunnel. I remember Tim Duncan missing a layup in the last minute of a game 7 that would have put his team in the lead and given Duncan title number 5. He had to wait another year for that trophy. I remember the Celtics up by 13 in game 7 in L.A. and losing partly because they didn’t block out Kobe Bryant, allowing him, a shooting guard, 15 rebounds, more rebounds than any other Celtic. I also saw LeBron block a shot and Kyrie hit a game winner in a game 7.
But here’s the thing. There is no Kyrie savior.
The Cavs are young and inexperienced to the nth degree. I don’t know how much faith there is in Jordan Clarkson and Rodney Hood and Larry Nance Jr. who are very, very new at this pressure and expectation thing. Jeff Green is usually awful in big moments. Kevin Love is hot and cold. Kyle Korver is trustworthy. J.R. Smith is anyone’s guess and Tristan Thompson doesn’t play and when he does he can’t score.
Which leaves LeBron to be great. But can he, over 48 minutes, carry this ship by himself? He couldn’t in the 2015 NBA Finals. The Pacers are not the Warriors though. You shut down Oladipo, you kill the Pacer beast. They don’t have a second scorer. Everyone else is streaky and are hot and cold like the Cavs can be hot and cold. A big lead early ensures a victory. The Pacers are a young team too and getting down big on the road may kick them in the gut for good.
But if it’s a close game and it comes down to plays at the end and the Cavs don’t execute and the Pacers do….what now?
What now LBJ? Los Angeles? Philly? Houston?
On Friday, Ramon Shelbourne (ESPN) said of all the legacy things LeBron is worried about his Finals record of 3-5 haunts him. Jordan is 6-0. Duncan is 5-1. Kobe is 5-2. Magic is 5-4. Even Shaq is 4-2.
If that is true, than the 76ers are the no brainer. Hook up with young studs like Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons and with their shot making on the perimeter, LeBron can ease on out the career with a couple of more titles.
Or, as Ramona Shelbourne offered, he can stay in Cleveland, get paid the highest 5 year deal in NBA history, and work with what the front office gives him. But it’s highly unlikely if he does stay that he doesn’t storm the gates and demand change and pronto. It might not deliver him another ring. But it will appease him in the short term.
If LeBron loses today, there will be two winners.
The Pacers. And Kyrie Iriving.