It’s easy to take LeBron James for granted. ESPN fellates him to no end, officials give him the benefit of the doubt in 50/50 calls, and he now has more in common with Kobe Bryant and not in a good way. All of this can easily distract someone from appreciating one of the best NBA Finals performers of all time. One of the biggest misconceptions about LeBron that he is not clutch. This cannot be further from the truth. I would go as far as to say that he is the greatest Finals performer since Michael Jordan.
In this year’s Finals no player has come within ten miles of affecting the series more than LeBron. He’s dominated from a physical standpoint as well as a mental standpoint. Whatever Draymond Green whispered into LeBron’s ear during Game 4 (allegedly it wasn’t bitch, but f—t) triggered something in him. Klay Thompson’s further chiding—inferring LeBron is not about that trash talk life—only pushed him further over the edge.
It was at this moment the Warriors messed up:
— NBA TV (@NBATV) June 12, 2016
He has finally unlocked the “fuck this I’m the best so everyone give me the ball and fall in line” attitude that helped Kobe and MJ dominate the competition. It’s no secret that in order to be the best you have to be a prick in some form (unless you’re Derek Jeter). It’s a mix of cockiness and supreme self-awareness. LeBron has finally embraced his inner asshole.We have already seen LeBron’s physical apex, but we are just now seeing his mental apex. This reawakening–personified by his Undertaker t-shirt during his press conference–has triggered remnants of his Miami Heat days when he seemed allergic to making the wrong play.
In Game 6—fighting off elimination for a second straight game—LeBron tallied 41 points, 11 assists, 8 rebound, 4 steals, and 3 blocks. In Game 5 on the road he racked up 41 points, 16 rebounds, 7 assists, 3 steals, and 3 blocks. If you’re wondering who is the last player to tally up numbers similar to that look no farther than LeBron James. No other player this decade has had a Finals game with at least 30 points, 10 rebounds and 5 assists (via Tommy Beer of Basketball Insiders).
His excellence in these past two games goes beyond those godly numbers. It’s the way he has carried himself on the court. He snarls at Stephen Curry with the same disdain that led Hakeem Olajuwon to publicly castrate David Robinson in 1995. He lets the reigning MVP know this is still his corner with every swat, made shot, or and-one serving as a painful reminder. He has torched Andre Igoudala who was being deemed a “LeBron stopper” earlier in the series for 82 points in eight quarters (to be fair Iggy’s back looks as stable Harrison Barnes’ jumper).
With Game 7 on the horizon LeBron has seismic tossed all the pressure back over to Curry and company. The law of averages suggest the Warriors are due for an explosion from downtown similar to the one they had in Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals. Under that assumption the Warriors should come out winners Sunday handing LeBron another Finals loss.
If that indeed happens LeBron should leave Oakland accomplishing a feat that has not been done since 1969 when Jerry West did it—win Finals MVP despite losing the series. Because no matter what goes down no player on either side has had a series like LeBron. The league will cross that bridge when it gets there on Sunday night, but as far as I’m concerned the Bill Russell NBA Finals Most Valuable Player Award already has LeBron James’ name engraved.