It seemed like the ideal way to go out. Richard Jefferson’s performance in the 2015-16 NBA Finals was vital to the Cleveland Cavaliers gallant 3-1 comeback win over the Golden State Warriors. A key adjustment made by the Cavs called on Jefferson to step up and play extended minutes. Tyronn Lue elected to start switching all Golden State screens and Jefferson’s 6’7” frame and athleticism allowed him to guard all five positions on the floor. His ability to defend both guards and forwards effectively allowed the Cavs defensive adjustment to slow down the Warriors.
After the Cavs had sealed an improbable game seven road win and the NBA Championship, Jefferson hinted to several sources that he would retire after 15 years in the league. However, It was just a week later that Chris Mannix of The Vertical reported Jefferson was not going to retire and was going to continue playing. On July 6, Jefferson confirmed he was returning on a new deal with the Cavs.
Jefferson got off to good start in the Cavaliers 2016-17 campaign. He would contribute 19.2 minutes a game while the Cavs ran out to am impressive 13-2 start. Many believed that the acquisition of Mike Dunleavy Jr. would take away from Jefferson’s minutes. Dunleavy was supposed to bring more offense to the Cavs bench but failed to supply much of anything.
Jefferson got his minutes mostly with the second team, providing versatility on the court and leadership off. He scored in double figures 15 times during the regular season, shooting 44 percent from the field and 33 percent from distance. He averaged 5.7 points per game but always was able to impart a productive floor game. He would average one assists, 2.6 rebounds and 0.3 steals per game, but those numbers are somewhat skewed because of some fluctuation in playing time throughout the season. A look at his 10 points, 4.5 rebounds and 1.7 assists averages per 36 minutes bare that out.
The high point for Jefferson came on Christmas. Jefferson has a nose for the big game and for the Golden State Warriors as he would have one pf his best game on Christmas Day, in the first meeting between the two rivals since the Cavs epic Game 7 victory. Jefferson would drop in eight points and grab two rebounds, but turned back clock when he posterized Klay Thompson.
He did it to Kevin Durant too. The man is 36 years-old right here.
That wasn’t all Jefferson had for Durant on Christmas either. In the fourth quarter, Jefferson checked Durant and shut him down, allowing the Cavs to rally from behind and take a lead with seconds to play. With the game on the line Jefferson got physical with Durant again and locked up a huge win for the Cavs.
As the season progressed, the Cavs added players like Kyle Korver, Deron Williams and Derrick Williams, so when J.R. Smith and Kevin Love got healthy and the Cavs geared up for their playoff run, minutes become more difficult to come by for Jefferson.
It became one of Lue’s theme’s to either play Channing Frye or Jefferson depending on the match-up. In fact, Jefferson hardly saw the floor at all in the first two rounds of the playoffs while Frye played his minutes. When the Cavs reached the Eastern Conference Finals against the Boston Celtics, Lue called Jefferson’s number over Frye’s. Jefferson had a big Game 2, scoring 10 points grabbing five rebounds and swatting away two blocked shots in a 130-86 Cavs win.
The Cavs faced off against the Warriors for the third straight year they brought out the best in Jefferson again. He played big minutes in the series and was the Cavs most effective defender on Durant who was virtually unstoppable. The Cavs would loss to the Warriors in five games, but Jefferson was competitive throughout. If this is it for him, there are worse ways to go out.