King’s Reign: LeBron James carries Cavs back to Finals

2018 conference championship akin to 2016 NBA title

Daryl Ruiter
May 28, 2018 - 1:32 am
Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James solutes in front of the Eastern Conference trophy after defeating the Boston Celtics in the 2018 NBA Playoffs at TD Garden.

David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

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Cleveland, OH (92.3 The Fan) – LeBron James did not win a fourth ring Sunday night, but getting the Cleveland Cavaliers back to the NBA Finals is just as good.

It ranks right up there with becoming the first in NBA history to lead a team back from down 3-1 in The Finals to win Cleveland’s first championship in 52 years with a Game 7 performance that legends are made of.  

And for as incredible or improbable as Cleveland's 2007 Finals run was on the James' acheivement meter, this run definitely tops it.

Easily. 

The season began with Kyrie Irving being traded to Boston in August, All-Star Kevin Love missed 2 months – and Game 7, head coach Tyronn Lue took a 2-week leave of absence for health reasons and rookie GM Koby Altman blew the roster up in February hours before the trade deadline because the old, slow, dysfunctional Cavs just weren’t good enough.

Considering the chaos that surrounded this team, this year, for James to put the franchise on his back speaks to his greatness as a competitor and champion. For all the “LeBron already has his foot out the door and is ready to move on to Houston, LA or Philadelphia” hot takes out there, he sure doesn’t play like it.

A multitude of injuries and Lue's health prevented James and the Cavs from developing any cohesion leading up to the playoffs. It nearly cost them against Indiana, but led by James, the Cavs survived in 7 and advanced. James single-handedly gutted the Toronto Raptors in a 4-game sweep.

James had every reason to simply say “it’s not my year” again after falling behind the Celtics, who were 37-0 when taking a 2-0 series lead all-time, but he didn’t. The Celtics are now 37-1 when leading 2-0.

James, once criticized for his inability to win in the clutch, has now won 6 straight Game 7’s where he averages an NBA-record 34.9 points per game in those series finales.

No matter how great James is, for his critics, it will never be enough. Sadly, those critics probably won't ever appreciate the greatness we just watched over the last 6 weeks.

Why? As Lue told reporters in Boston following their 87-79 victory in Game 7 to return to the NBA Finals for a fourth consecutive year, “it sells.”

If James is unable to do what everyone believes to be the impossible and deliver a second championship in these upcoming Finals to the Cavs and Cleveland, the critics will pounce on what would be a 3-6 Finals record.

But James put on a performance for the ages once again Sunday night in Boston: 35 points, 15 rebounds – all of them on the defensive end of the floor – and 9 assists while playing all 48 minutes, marking the fifth time in his career he’s done that in the playoffs. He’s now 5-0 in those games.

It also wouldn't be a Game 7 without another monumental clutch block by James. He rejected Terry Rozier at the rim with 3:25 left in the third quarter preserving a 4-point advantage, then proceeded to burn a hole in the back of Rozier's head as he starred him down.

For years the debate about James’ greatness has raged on but lost in the hot takes from the talking heads is the fact that James’ career has become its own legend.

James is to the Celtics, Pacers, Bulls, Wizards, Raptors, Hawks and Pistons what Michael Jordan was to the great Cavs teams of the late 80’s and early 90s.

In the 72-year history of the NBA, 301 teams have fallen behind 0-2 in a playoff series and just 20 of them have rallied back to win it – James and the Cavs now own 3 of them: 2007 Eastern Conference Finals, 2016 NBA Finals and the 2018 Eastern Conference Finals.

James will play for an NBA championship for an eighth consecutive year. He has now won 24 consecutive Eastern Conference playoff series.

Regardless of what happens in June, or what James decides in July, No. 23 has fulfilled the promise he made when he returned in 2014.

He championed the greatest era in Cavaliers history and no critic will ever be able to take that from him.