On Thursday night, the Cleveland Cavaliers thoroughly dominated the Boston Celtics in Game 5 to advance to their third consecutive NBA Finals, where they will face the Golden State Warriors in the most anticipated rubber match in NBA history.
In this game, LeBron passed Michael Jordan to become the NBA's all-time leading postseason scorer, an accomplishment that has taken remarkable consistency and resolve to achieve, and the end doesn't appear to be in sight.
However, there is no honeymoon on the horizon to celebrate this milestone, as he will now be faced with the toughest test of his career as he and his team will attempt to defeat arguably the greatest assemblance of talent in NBA history.
LeBron looks ready for the next challenge, and so does the rest of the squad
LeBron has had one of the greatest postseasons ever up to this point, but for some reason the narrative changed when LeBron finally had a subpar performance in Game 3 and got in foul trouble early in Game 4, but he quickly reminded the world what he was made of thereafter, scoring 15 points in the fourth quarter of Game 4 to help seal that game, and in Game 5 put on a clinic and looked confident, determined, and nonchalant in his thorough destruction of the Celtics in the Garden. This was no surprise to anyone.
What has been surprising, however, is how phenomenal his supporting cast has looked, particularly his star running mates Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love.
In the Celtics series, Kyrie Irving averaged 25.8 points and 5.4 assists per game on 62.2 percent shooting from the field and 50 percent shooting from three. I wrote before this series about how Kyrie was due for a bounce back after some poor shooting performances in the first two rounds of the playoffs, and he pulled it off and then some. In this series, Kyrie was 7-15 (46.7 percent) on tightly contested threes, but he was already shooting a fairly modest 9-23 (39.3 percent) from three in the first two rounds on such shots, which is really impressive. However, his struggles were with open shots, where he was 3-24 on open threes in the first two rounds. Against the Celtics, he was 7-13 (53.8 percent) on threes considered open or wide open, so I think it’s safe to call his streak of missing wide open shots an aberration at this point.
Kevin Love has been playing arguably the best basketball of his career this postseason, going for averages of 22.6 points and 12.4 rebounds per game while shooting 48.6 percent from the field and 53.6 percent from three against the Celtics.
Outside of the ‘Big Three’, the rest of the team looks ready for primetime. J.R. Smith is back to hitting threes (44.6 percent in the postseason) and playing sound, fundamental defense, Tristan Thompson has been a beast on the boards and has been the Cavs most effective defensive player in the postseason, and every normal rotation player outside of Tristan and Kyrie is shooting above 40 percent from behind the arc in the postseason. This is a team that’s peaking at just the right time.
Maybe it’s time to stop talking about the weak Eastern Conference and start talking about the sheer dominance of LeBron James
LeBron James is advancing to his seventh straight NBA Finals and his eighth overall. In his 14th NBA season, he has finished his season playing for a chance to take home the Larry O’Brien Trophy more often than he hasn’t. That’s a remarkable achievement, but it’s seems to be constantly sullied by the talk of how weak his competition in the East has been throughout this run.
To echo comments Kevin Durant had earlier today regarding a similar topic, the imbalanced parity in the league today isn’t LeBron’s fault. It’s not his fault no team in the East has been able to assemble a roster capable of dethroning the King. He plays whoever is in front of him, and over the last 3 seasons that has led to a 36-5 record in the playoffs against Eastern Conference opponents.
I also feel that LeBron isn’t given due credit for this awe-inspiring run he’s on right now. Every season, it seems like many people think *this* is the year LeBron and the Cavs lose in the Eastern Conference, and this season was no different. When the Cavs started reeling off wins after having a down regular season, the narrative quickly reverted back to “LeBron has no competition in the East.”
There is some truth to both arguments, but the fact of the matter is these teams aren’t nearly as bad as they’re perceived to be after LeBron gets through with them and he deserves credit for such consistent and interminable dominance that doesn’t appear to be reaching its climax anytime soon.
The Cavs are going to be focused and ready for their three-match against Golden State
In the post-game presser last night, LeBron was adamant about not wanting to discuss the Golden State Warriors.
I'm going to be honest, I'm not in the right mind to even talk about Golden State. It's too stressful, and I'm not stressed right now. I'm very happy about our accomplishment. I have no discussion -- Golden State, they've been the best team in our league for the last three years, and then they added an MVP. That's all I can give you right now, because I'm happy and I don't want to be stressed. They cause a lot of stress, and I'll get to that point when we start to prepare for them.
LeBron knows what type of challenge this Warriors team presents, as he also called them “the best team in our league for the last three years,” and he knows their path to a championship has become much more arduous with the addition of Kevin Durant. Based on his comments from last night, he wants his team to be able to enjoy this moment and not take it for granted, and over the next week they’ll prepare to take on “that juggernaut out West.”
It’s also pretty clear that Kyrie Irving is relatively excited to get another crack at the Warriors on the biggest stage.
Look at Kyrie when Ernie Johnson talks about facing the Warriors again in the Finals pic.twitter.com/8zlx0Nkca8— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) May 26, 2017
The Warriors may very well be the most talented team in NBA history, and they have steamrolled their way through the postseason, becoming the first team in NBA history to enter the Finals with a 12-0 record.
The challenge this Cavs team will face over the coming weeks will be daunting, but they appear able and ready to take it head on and leave it all on the floor to try and win another one for The Land.