I figured going into the NBA finals that Golden State would win. I figured after the Warriors took Game 1 in overtime and Kyrie Irving was lost, this time for good, that they might sweep. After they lost Game 2 in overtime, I thought they’d win in five. Even now, I still think they’ll win the series.
I’m also thinking it might be time for me to stop thinking.
I have no idea how Cleveland is leading this series. (And not just leading the series; it’s one missed shot at the end of regulation in Game 1 from sweeping.) OK, so that’s not entirely true: I have an idea. LeBron James is playing at a level unseen in his career and maybe in anybody’s career, and here I include Michael Jordan.
LeBron has missed 64 shots — missed, mind you — in three games but is averaging 41 points at the highest level of basketball, and if he were averaging 35 points his team would be all but done. Take LeBron off what remains of these Cavaliers and you’d have a lottery team. Simply because they have LeBron, the Cavs are two games from a title.
Great as he was — and he was the greatest — Michael Jordan never lifted a team like this to the finals. Five of his six championship teams won 60 or more games; one won 72, and the worst won 57. These Cavs were 53-29, and that was with Irving and Kevin Love, neither of whom is available now. (Nor is Anderson Varejao, the starting center lost to a torn Achilles in December.)
The Cavaliers of 2006-2007 are widely regarded as the least talented team ever to grace the finals. (Their second-leading scorer was Larry Hughes.) But the 22-year-old LeBron was so transcendent that he made everything seem possible — until his team smacked into San Antonio and got swept. I’m not sure this team, as presently constituted, is much better than that one, with this difference: LeBron is 30 and at the peak of his powers.
LeBron had 40 points in Tuesday’s Game 3. The rest of his team had 56 — Matthew Dellavedova, who wasn’t drafted, somehow had 20 — but the Cavs managed to hold off the 67-win Warriors, who go 11 deep and who have the NBA’s 2015 MVP. I keep waiting for the talent differential to take hold and the Cavs to collapse, but right now LeBron’s is the only talent that matters. He’s the King.