The Cleveland Cavaliers won the Eastern Conference. At some point, LeBron James will play his last game with everyone in Quicken Loans Arena cheering his name. Next season, the odds are good that he’ll be back in town in a visiting uniform.
This season, odds are great that he’ll taste at least one setback in front of those same adoring fans in an NBA Finals he’ll undoubtedly lose. The Cavs will be a massive underdog against whoever gets out of the Western Conference.
Unless he wins Game 4, there’s a high probability the final game he plays is at home in Northeast Ohio.
James, the best player of this current generation, the only person worthy of being placed in the same sentence with Michael Jordan, will lose in the NBA Finals for the sixth time in nine tries. There will be no miracle comeback from 3-1 down.
His hands are tied. It’s often stated basketball is the one sport where an individual can make the difference since you can play all 48 minutes and there are only 10 players on the floor at the same time.
You can decide whether his influence is greater than Tom Brady’s or Cristiano Ronaldo’s. You can decide whether he’s better than Jordan. That said, there is no way the Cavs are defeating the Western Conference champions.
This column was written before a Game 7 where host Houston still hasn’t ruled out Chris Paul, but I’d expect Golden State to make it four NBA Finals appearances in a row. They’ve kept James from a few rings, adding Kevin Durant after he denied them once by rallying his team from a 3-1 deficit.
Without Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward available, the Celtics featured young players in their rotation that you expected would struggle in crucial games.
J.R. Smith and Tristan Thompson have won a championship. George Hill is closing in on 100 career playoff games. All three were awful in their team’s losses but productive in the wins. Not to play doctor, but Love is likely to come out of concussion protocol and play a large role in the series.
Lue learned a valuable lesson in losing Game 5, leaving Kyle Korver on the bench after he’d been the x-factor in both of the Cavs’ home wins, shooting 9-for-12. The excuse that Semi Ojeleye’s benching threw his substitution patterns for a loop was unacceptable, lending credence to the belief that he’s putting his team at a disadvantage from a strategy standpoint against Brad Stevens. He’ll know exactly what Steve Kerr wants to accomplish.
Entering last Friday’s action, both series underdogs owned 3-2 leads despite being heavy underdogs. Both lost Game 6. Cleveland won on the road in Game 6. Golden State should too or else this sentence will be embarrassing. Full disclosure, regular readers know I pledged allegiance to both Cleveland and Golden State squaring off in a fourth consecutive NBA Finals and can honestly testify I haven’t deviated from that stance despite the current long odds.
LeBron looked visibly fatigued in Game 5, betrayed by tell-tale signs like his hands on his hips and other clear examples of being worn out. Considering he’s been carrying such a heavy load for so long, helping secure even a No. 4 seed when they probably should’ve lost the Central Division, his exhaustion is to be expected. What remains to be seen is whether he can overcome it. If he can conquer fatigue, maybe the Finals will be more competitive than I anticipate.
Although he’s 2-4 in attempting to try and rally his team from an 0-2 deficit, James managed to get the job done in the conference finals against the Pistons in ’07 and the ’16 Finals vs. Golden State. Boston was 37-0 all-time after taking a 2-0 advantage and faltered.
We were treated exclusively to blowouts in the Eastern Conference finals since Game 7 ended up closer than every other contest, finishing up with a 9-point margin of victory.
By ruling Kevin Love out on Saturday, the Cavs left no mystery about what to expect in Game 7 and won anyway. Brad Stevens can see exactly what went wrong on Friday while also being able to produce counters for what Cleveland did well with Jeff Green on the floor.
The former No. 4 pick is now the x-factor and has actually performed better than Love in the series since the concussed All-Star averaged just 12 points over the course of Games 3 through 5 while getting picked on defensively.
The line remained in the 2.5-point range immediately after the news broke that Love would be sidelined, so oddsmakers aren’t putting too much importance on his absence. It’s going to take another epic performance from James in his fifth game in nine nights in order to advance but losing Love as a running mate is no deal-breaker. We’ll see if Green can flourish upon being promoted to the Robin role up front.