NBA Commissioner Adam Silver must be feeling pretty good this week.
The NBA Finals looked like it might be over in five games, but the Cavaliers came back against improbable odds to force a sixth and seventh game. This was fun for sports fans and big money in advertising dollars.
If someone had asked me two weeks ago who I was pulling for in the Finals, I likely would have said the Warriors – just because they share the ball a lot and make a bunch of three-pointers. It looks fun.
Then the series started, and it slowly began – a shift in my desires. By Game 7, I found myself openly rooting for the Cavs, and I think it was because LeBron James impressed me in a way he hasn’t in the past.
I’ve never been a huge James supporter. I think he is an outstanding player, but I always felt there was a little something missing. What was it exactly? It was hard to pin down.
I have no doubt that LeBron is a very competitive person, and his nature really shined in this series.
Still, I just couldn’t see myself betting on him for one shot.
What I mean is, let’s say you can pick one player to take a shot at the end of the game to win you a million dollars. As great as he is overall, if I had to pick someone, I don’t think it would be James.
From all of history, I would pick Jordan, Bird and Magic in that order (with John Stockton as an undervalued alternate). From current players, ESPN the Magazine’s research for an article showed that Carmelo Anthony is the most clutch scorer at the end of games (for those of you thinking Kobe Bryant, the Black Mamba was actually one of the worst by success percentage).
Look at the 2013 Finals between the Heat and Spurs.
The Heat had a three-point lead with two minutes left, but LeBron had two turnovers and went 1-3 shooting. It was Ray Allen who hit the tying shot with five seconds left, then stripped Manu Ginobili and made two foul shots in overtime.
Stretches like that made me doubt LeBron’s greatness.
In fact, one sports show brought up stats that showed that James pretty much plays exactly the same in the last five minutes of a game as he does in the prior 43 minutes. Similar shooting percentage, similar rebounding percentage. It’s not that LeBron played poorly in the clutch, it’s just that he never really took his game “to the next level,” to use a sports cliche.
But, when your regular level is as high as LeBron’s, it is unfair to expect even more? I think that is the feeling that started to sway me this week.
Sure, LeBron’s jumper wasn’t going on Sunday night, but he didn’t let that get him down.
He got to the foul line 10 times. He reached double digits in rebounds and assists. He chased down three different players and blocked a layup from behind.
He gave maximum effort despite lighting it up from neither midrange nor deep.
How many times have we seen a good player hang his head when shots aren’t falling? J.R. Smith has been guilty of that at times. Klay Thompson wasn’t hitting shots Sunday, and he had little impact on the rest of the game, having more turnovers than assists and grabbing only two rebounds at 6-foot-7.
On the opposite side, Draymond Green only had two good games scoring, but he still put up averages of 10.3 rebounds, 6.3 assists, 1.7 steals, 1.0 blocks and a 3-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio.
The 2013-14 season is the only time that LeBron has hit 40 percent from long range. Since going back to Cleveland, his shooting percentage has dropped, but that hasn’t stopped him from putting teammates on his back and carrying them.
With his deep jumper not falling, LeBron scored inside. He finished the playoffs with a shooting percentage on two-pointers of 58 percent.
For the Finals, LeBron averaged 29.7 points, 11.3 rebounds, 8.9 assists, 2.3 blocks, 2.6 steals and a 2-to-1 assist-to-TO ratio. He shot 49.4 percent overall, 37.1 percent on threes and 72.1 percent at the line.
For my final point, let me remind folks that some of the best players in history struggled from long range.
Michael Jordan shot only 32.7 percent from long range. Charles Barkley shot an abysmal 26.6 percent, yet he tried more than 2,000 times. Dr. J (Julius Erving) shot 26.1 percent in the NBA, 29.8 percent including his time in the ABA.
LeBron didn’t force up bad three-pointers. He lowered his shoulder and attacked the basket in spectacular fashion.
And he won me over in the process. He’s still not the GOAT (greatest of all time), but I’ll concede second place behind Jordan.
Jeff is the associate editor and can be reached at 415-4692.