LeBron James had 44 points, eight rebounds and six assists in Game 1 of the NBA Finals, a Herculean performance in which he was absolutely brilliant for the first 47 minutes. LeBron’s had many great playoff games, and Thursday’s performance was surely in his Top 5. How good was Lebron?
In the 4th quarter, with the Cavs down 80-77, with 8:33 left, LeBron took over:
* 19-foot jumper
* assist to Mozgov for the layup
* 12-foot jumper in the lane
* assist to Kyrie Irving on a 3-pointer
* 8-footer in the lane
Eight points and two assists in three minutes and the Cavs grabbed an 91-87 lead with 5:07 left and were prepared to steal Game 1 on the road. But as the Warriors defense started to collapse on LeBron, he then had to rely on Kyrie Irving and JR Smith to make open three-pointers … both missed. The Warriors re-gained the lead.
So LeBron calmly made a 25-foot 3-pointer to tie the game at 96. With the game tied at 98, inside the final :30, Irving made an incredible block on Stephen Curry, and the Cavs had the ball with a chance to win and a full shot clock’s worth of time.
They called timeout. Presumably, David Blatt drew up a play. And this is all anyone will remember from LeBron’s 44-point night: Instead of backing down Andre Iguodala or demanding the ball on the block, something he had done all night – though of the Golden State defenders, Iguodala played him the toughest, by far – LeBron dribbled on the perimeter and settled for a 24-foot step-back 3-pointer.
It missed. Iman Shumpert’s rebound heave was on line, but missed. It would have been an epic game-winner.
Would it have been preferable to have LeBron back down Iguodala, and make the Warriors run a double at him, and then hit the open teammate for a shot? Sure. What are the odds that if LeBron bull rushes the basket, he scores or gets fouled? Or Thompson taps in an offensive rebound? A long step-back jumper over the outstretched arms of Iguodala is suboptimal compared to all of that.
And yet Shumpert’s rebound nearly went in!
The Warriors rolled in overtime, and worse yet, Irving re-injured his pesky left knee, and much to the chagrin of anyone who enjoys basketball, the series went from a barnburner that could go 6-7 games, to possibly (likely?) a Golden State sweep.
Yes, LeBron is in Michael Jordan’s class; no, he can’t carry this weak Cleveland team minus Love and Irving to four wins in six games against the Warriors. Where will the points come from?
Even if JR Smith has a bounce-back game (3-for-13 in Game 1), they’ll need big points from Iman Shumpert (2-of-6) as well. Because there’s simply no way that LeBron can handle running an offense, taking 38 shots, playing defense against the up-tempo Warriors and scoring 40+ points the rest of the series.
Depending on what the MRI results are, the Cavaliers might as well sit Irving for Game 2 and hope that four days rest is enough to have him healthy in Game 3 at home.