Against this Golden State Warriors team, every single point the Cleveland Cavaliers can muster is a war. Whether it's off an offensive rebound, or a grinded out free throw, or any type of shot Matthew Dellavedova makes, it all feels hard. It's LeBron James and guys on the floor (oftentimes literally) maximizing any and all offensive skills they might bring to the table.
In two games since Kyrie Irving went out, it's been enough. LeBron James has been enough. He's been limping, he played 46 minutes in Game 3. He made four of four free throws in the final minute to withstand a furious Stephen Curry rally. 40 points, 34 shots, 12 rebounds, eight assists, four steals, two blocked shots, and just four turnovers. And you felt it all. He felt it all. Andre Iguodala, Harrison Barnes, they tried. And LeBron James missed a lot of shots. But James' grip on the game never wavered.
The Cavs now stand two wins away from their first NBA championship. As thrilling and impressive as this game was, that still feels like a tall order. The Cavs are grinding, and they're paying for it. Iman Shumpert, playing through a groin injury, injured his shoulder but played through it. He was laboring. There are still a possible four more games to play, and it's fair to wonder what these players have left. For James and his teammates, incredible sacrifice must still happen. At a certain point, though, they've come this far. You just keep going until they tell you you've done enough.
LeBron James may be telling himself that. He's getting timely help. Tristan Thompson has played a major role in taking Warriors x-factor Draymond Green out of the series, shooting woes be damned. Timofey Mozgov has used his size expertly, and played smarter than Andrew Bogut at times. Few guessed that would happen coming into the series.
J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert have made just enough shots, though in Smith's case you hope there is something left in the reservoir to draw from. Shumpert's hands and energy defensively are as big a story in these playoffs for the Cavs as anything, but he's suffered mental lapses offensively. With some of these guys, you take the bad in stride and just wait and hope for whatever they can give, whenever they can give it. It's fun to say "next man up", but at this point the men up are what's left.
James has been posting up, he's now made five three pointers in the two Cavs wins in the Finals. He forces his way to the line, he pounds the ball. It feels like a football game at times, LeBron James running the ball, and Thompson or Dellavedova or anyone coming up with an offensive board or loose ball to run it again, get a new set of downs. The Cavs get another chance, and the Warriors can't get out and run.
His usage rate is off the charts, on a level that only Russell Westbrook has approached, and he's maintaining an efficiency that keeps the Cleveland basketball team afloat. The team defense is incredible, but the Cavs are playing capable defenders. Thompson and James Jones each finished with 10 points. Dellavedova notched 20. When those guys are your secondary scorers and you are winning games in the NBA Finals, well, there isn't much context necessary to explain just how rare and special this team is. Or how rare and special LeBron James is.
Two wins. Two wins separate the Cavs and LeBron James from a title for the city, from a title that can cement a spot in a conversation about just who the top three or four basketball players of all time are. And the voices comparing him favorably to the man on top, who tortured the Cavs of yesteryear, will get ever louder. What's good for LeBron James is, once again, good for Cleveland.