2018 NBA Playoffs: LeBron James saved the Cavs again, so how much longer will this work?
Well, LeBron James did it again. There really isn’t much more to say than that. After Cleveland squandered a double-digit fourth-quarter lead, and LeBron himself turned it over with the game tied and less than 30 seconds to play, the greatest player any of us have ever seen (please, just stop trying to refute this) came up with a saving block on one end before, three seconds later, hitting the winning shot on the other to give the Cavs a 98-95 victory against the Pacers in Game 5.
First, the block:
Now, before we go any further, this was not a clean block. It was a goaltend, clear as day. Victor Oladipo’s shot hit the backboard before LeBron pinned it against the glass again. LeBron said as much after the game:
That said, the 3-pointer still would have won it, and here it is:
I’m sure that isn’t the first time you have seen those clips by now, and I’m even more sure this won’t be the first time you’ve read or heard some iteration of what I’m about to say, because sometimes there is only one thing to say: LeBron is brilliant in a way that few people have ever been brilliant at anything they’ve ever done in the world, sports or otherwise, but at what point will even he not be enough to carry this otherwise average-to-below-average Cavs team to playoff victories?
No way they can win a title. But can they get out the East? Given how flawed this Cleveland team is, it’s nuts that we can’t rule that out because of the greatness of one player. But this is important: LeBron by himself has not been enough before. Yes, his teams have been to seven consecutive NBA Finals, but he has also had far and away the best team — though not always by record — in the conference each of those years.
This season has echoed James’ first stint with the Cavaliers in some ways, particularly with the imminent free-agency decision lingering over proceedings. But rather than 2010, go back to 2009, when the Cavs lost to the Magic in the conference finals. James also hit a buzzer beater in that series. In fact, it was from pretty much the exact same spot on the court.
LeBron’s winner on Wednesday vs. Indiana feels a lot like this shot he hit back in 2009 — a great play from a great player that feels futile in the grander championship picture, because ultimately the team is just not good enough. Delaying the inevitable, if you will.
The point is: Only one time in LeBron’s career has he taken a team that wasn’t the most collectively talented team in the conference to the Finals, and that was in 2007, when the Cavs, who gave substantial minutes to the likes of Larry Hughes and Boobie Gibson, got swept by San Antonio. In 2015, Kevin Love sat for most of the postseason, and Kyrie Irving was heavily limited, but the East was so weak that James’ Cavaliers didn’t struggle.
In other words, it’s an exaggeration to say LeBron carries teams through the East every year. He typically has help, certainly more than he does this time around. On Wednesday, LeBron posted 44 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists. For the series, he’s averaging a playoff-leading 34.8 points, 11.4 boards and 8.0 assists on 55 percent shooting.
That we have all just sort of come to expect these numbers says a lot about how amazing LeBron has been to this point.
That it is taking these kinds of numbers for the Cavs to take a skin-of-their-teeth 3-2 series lead against the fifth-seeded Pacers says even more about how amazing he’ll have to be moving forward.
The simple truth is that there is no other option for these Cavs. Either LeBron goes crazy, or they go home. This series is obviously there for the taking, but 59-win Toronto — which took a 3-2 lead on the Wizards on Wednesday — potentially awaits in the second round, and the Raptors aren’t the Pacers. Let’s say somehow they get through that series, the 76ers likely await, and good luck with that squad right now.
And yet, can anyone say with any kind of certainty these Cavs won’t end up making it to a fourth consecutive Finals? Do you really see LeBron just stopping with these kinds of performances? The guy can simply do whatever he wants, whenever he wants, or so it seems. It’s merely one of the reasons these playoffs have already been fascinating and stand to be even more so moving forward.
We don’t have any idea what’s going to happen, particularly in the East. What we do know is that whatever happens, LeBron James will have a lot to say about it.