“Revenge is a dish that tastes best when served cold.”
Mario Puzo, The Godfather
In the 1969 NBA Finals, Bill Russell’s Boston Celtics beat the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 7 – but the finals MVP went to Jerry West of the Lakers. This season’s NBA Playoffs, win or lose, LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers is this year’s Finals MVP.
After the Cavs went down 3-1 in the series, James took over on both ends of the floor. Honestly, to say took over is not enough; LeBron has thoroughly dominated the Golden State Warriors.
James is nearly averaging a triple-double over the past two games: 41 points, 12 rebounds, 9 assists, 3.5 steals and 3 blocks a game. And it’s not just counting stats: in addition to his raw numbers, James found his shooting stroke at the perfect time, hitting 50% of his threes and 56.1% from all over the floor. These are the types of critical performances that turn NBA heroes into NBA legends.
A polarizing figure and one of the most scrutinized players of our time, James has been a player I have compared James to Sonny Corleone from the Godfather, a movie that, apparently, he’s watched 6 times since the Playoffs began:
“What he did do was, last night, to settle himself down, he watched The Godfather: Part II. He has taken to watching The Godfather now throughout this postseason. No social media, no SportsCenter, none of that stuff. He’s watching movies. He’s watched The Godfather six times this postseason.”
– Chris Broussard, LeBron James has watched ‘The Godfather’ 6 times this postseason
In The Finals, LeBron has been more Michael Corleone than Sonny. His ability to will his team to this point – to even force a game seven against the defending NBA champions – cements LeBron as the Finals MVP.
On the defensive end, LeBron has been a constant intimidator: the plays below are four of the blocks from the past two games:
The first play, he chases down Stephen Curry like a lion ready to pounce, then in the second, does the same to Andre Iguodala. Third, LeBron catches up to Draymond Green after he leaks out. The last block happens as James switches on Curry, doesn’t bite on the ball fake, and then sends the regular season MVP’s shot out of bounds with authority.
In addition to his defensive and scoring dominance, he’s facilitated for his teammates as well. He’s averaging 8.5 assists by reading the floor perfectly, especially in the last two games.
Here, James comes off a JR Smith high ball screen, and as Green rotates to help, he sees that Klay Thompson is not cracking back to take Tristan Thompson away. James throws a perfectly placed lob to Thomspon, who slams it home:
In Game 6, LeBron was putting the ball through the hoop in every way imaginable. If his teammates moved the ball to him, he didn’t settle for jump-shots, but instead drove the lane. He came off ball screens with force, and if the defender backed up, he hit a three and crashed the offensive glass for a put-back. These clips show seven of LeBron’s 16 consecutive points that he scored in the second half to the put the game away.
LeBron James has undeniably been the most consistent player in the Finals this season, leading in every significant statistical category. He is not scoring as much as he did in the Finals last season, but is much more efficient. He went from 39.8% from the field last year, carrying his injury-ridden team to 6 games against a superior opponent, to 51.4% this year. When the NBA has all but given up on his long-range touch, he improved from 31% in last year’s Finals to 40% this year.
This graphic from ESPN Stats and Information twitter demonstrates the sheer dominance of LeBron’s Finals performance.
When Jerry West’s 1969 Lakers lost in the Finals to the Boston Celtics, West was named the Finals MVP for that series because of his unquestionably dominant personal performance. LeBron has been every bit as dominant in these Finals as West was in his: West averaged 37.9 ppg, shooting 49% from the field prior to the implementation of the three point line. Now, Jerry West owns the Golden State Warriors, who for the second consecutive year are squared up against LeBron and his Cavs. Before the Finals began, West came to the defense of James when reporters asked about his legacy:
“If I were him, frankly I’d probably want to strangle you guys (in the media), OK? No, it’s ridiculous. He carried teams on his shoulders. They’ve been in the Finals six straight times. How many times have they been the favorite? None. Zero, OK? Grossly unfair to him.”
Once again, LeBron has carried the Cavs on his shoulders; no matter the result he has hands down been the best player in this series. If LeBron James isn’t named as the Finals MVP after Game 7, then the award loses all credibility in my eyes.