I’ve always been anti Bron, well before it was the cool thing to do. But I rooted for him this year. He was getting more flack than any other player who had played at anywhere near his level, and it needed to stop. King James finally has his ring, and the public perception of him is about to experience a radical shift. Lebron finally played to his standard in the finals and submitted a truly terrific performance.
And that’s what people will talk about, Bron’s amazing performance, and it will come off as something unexpected and unprecedented due to his previous failures. They’ll talk about how he made “the leap” and “finally figured it out”. This series was about Lebron James, there’s no question about that. While other players had their impact on the floor the story of the 2012 finals was Lebron. And what do we take away from it? It’s not just a great performance. It’s validation. Validation for the greatest basketball player alive. There has not been a rational argument against that statement in years. He is unmatched.
This wasn’t some miracle run by Miami. It took them 23 games to win it all. Missing Bosh for the better part of 2 series is a big reason for this but Miami did not dominate these playoffs. Lebron James did. It’s evident from the numbers (30.3/9.7/5.6 on 50%). But it’s more than that. Lebron has been overscrutinized to the point that if he has 3 very good games in a row followed by a bad game he gets torn apart. His solution? Don’t have a bad game… ever. His worst game of the playoffs was probably game 2 against Indiana, where he managed only 22 points 7 rebounds and 3 assists in a loss. His next worst game was probably game 3 against New York where his great statline of 32/8/5 was marred by 8 turnovers.
Neither of those are awful games. And once the scrutiny went even higher, when they fell into a 2-1 hole against Indiana without Bosh, Lebron James went nuts. Over the remaining 15 games he averaged 31.7 points, 10.8 rebounds and 5.9 assists. He did this while guarding Danny Granger, then Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo, then Kevin Durant. While I could make many superlative statements, on his greatness, it’s easiest to show the magnificence of Lebron through a look at the following 3 games.
Game 6 vs Boston (45 points, 15 rebounds, 5 assists, 73% shooting).
This was Bron’s greatest individual performance of the playoffs, and in my opinion the second greatest of his playoff career. More impressive than just the numbers was that this was easily the biggest game of the year. This game is the epitome of what Lebron James is capable of when his jump shot is falling. Not saying he shoots this well regularly, but watching the game it didn’t feel like Lebron was making impossible shots, he was just making shots that Boston had no choice but to give him. His jumper is massively improved (though it abandoned him in the finals), but it remains the biggest weakness in his game. Just know that he can do this when it’s on point. Look out. This is what it looked like.
Game 4 vs OKC (26 points, 9 rebounds, 12 assists, 50% shooting)
People might remember this game in years to come as the game where Bron had his first truly “clutch” finals moment, the 3 pointer while playing on one leg. I won’t, because focusing on one shot ignores the truth of this game. Dwyane Wade closed the game, making every play needed. Bron had the big moment but Wade closed. And yet… Bron was the best player on the floor, even though Russell Westbrook was having the best game of his great young career. Lebron’s numbers are good, but the way he played was magnificent.
It was the ultimate “You can’t guard me” game. They had no choice but to concede open 15 foot jumpers, which he happened to miss in this game, but the point is that they had to give them up. And when he started missing, he decided that he wasn’t going to bother with those anymore and went to the post, where he put on an absolute clinic on post play. When they left Harden alone on him he scored with relative ease. When they threw a double team he waited until the best possible moment to pass it to the most open guy.
This performance prompted Bill Simmons to write “it was like watching Bird 2.0, only if Bird was also one of the three best defenders in the league. To repeat: Lebron was playing like a rich man’s version of the fifth-best basketball player of all time. “. It’s not an exaggeration. Bron has been the most dominant athletic specimen in the league for years, and his skills have been constantly improving. But in these playoffs, he demonstrated more than anything just how advanced his basketball IQ has become.
Choosing when to score and when to distribute. Choosing when to operate from the 3 point line and when to enter the post. Making perfect passing decisions that might seem easy for us watching from home on our TV’s but certainly aren’t easy on a court with some of the best athletes in the world. This game was a total clinic. And it led to the next game in question.
Game 5 vs OKC (26 points 11 rebounds 13 assists 48% shooting)
The stat line was great, a classic triple double marred only slightly by the 6 turnovers. But that’s not what makes this memorable. What made this a memorable and defining game for Lebron was not the numbers, or the fact that it was a closeout game, or anything like that. What this game showed was something about Lebron that I don’t think holds true for any other player in our league today.
The Oklahoma City Thunder were afraid of him.
From the opening tip, when James caught the ball he was double teamed without hesitation. Not just in the post, he was doubled 20 feet from the basket. Now this in itself isn’t surprising, teams have long employed the strategy of doubling a star and asking role players to beat them. What made this particularly fascinating was when they continued to do it even though it had quite clearly failed. The Miami shooters were knocking down their shots, and now they were in a rhythm.
The logical response is to take them out of their rhythm and see if Bron can hurt you as much. But they didn’t. Even as they were down 10 at half and getting killed by shooters they kept doubling Bron. And in the 3rd quarter, they truly paid. Miami rained three after three, and still they didn’t leave Bron. They might have sagged off a little but they would still rather take their chances with Miami’s shooters than give Bron a single defender 20 feet from the net. They thought he was capable of doing more harm than their shooters currently were. They were completely afraid.
And that’s my memory of this game and this series, an elite team that was so scared of one player that they would risk their whole season on keeping him from scoring. There have been many great players over the years, but I haven’t seen many that strike fear in a team as good as that Thunder team was. The last one I can think of is Shaq. Before that was MJ. Kobe was a great talent but he could never take over like Bron.
Kobe could score with anyone, but that made him predictable in a way. There’s a reason that since he’s been the 1st option his production in playoff series against good defences has usually been subpar. You could guard Kobe, or at least limit him since you knew he was going to shoot, and usually what kind of shot he would take.
With Bron, you have to keep him out of the post, you also can’t stay too close to him on the perimeter or you’ll get beat. You can’t sag too far off or he’ll get a running start and it will be like trying to stop a train. You can’t let him go baseline as he’s terrific at getting to the rim and finishing. You can’t force him middle as he’ll find cutters and open shooters or hit his newly perfected floater. You can’t even help off of him as when he’s motivated he is a fantastic offensive rebounder and is one of the best cutters in the league. He just dominated a finals in which his jumper was struggling as much as it ever has. And that’s scary, even to a team like OKC.
Writing this the day after the finals ended, everything is too fresh to try to put it in a historical context. People will try sure, but just like last year they will likely overreact. But that’s fine, because the media has spent too long under-reacting to Lebron’s greatness. They overreact to his failures, but his all around play rarely gets the justification it deserves.
It’s as if writers are told to not write about how well he played without mentioning every failure he’s ever had. It’s why, when there comes a time to praise him, everyone does so gushingly. It happened last year after the Chicago series, the media essentially crowned them champs and there were MJ comparisons and all this talk about how Bron had finally figured it out. And then they lost, and people acted as if all that greatness they were so eager to discuss had disappeared entirely over the course of 6 games.
It’s a stupid system where writers on deadlines have to write about something, and they know that any Lebron James piece will get a lot of hits. So they write it, and they spin it negatively, reminding us of all his failures (and he absolutely has had some) while conveniently neglecting to mention his slew of successes (though he has never had the ultimate success until now). Perhaps it’s time Lebron got his due credit.
I’m not going to give my ranking of Lebron on an all time list. I have an idea in my head, but I can’t be bothered to justify it just yet. However, I will say that the placement hasn’t gone up much at all as a result of these playoffs. But that’s why I said these playoffs were about validation for Lebron. Is he a better player than in years past? Of course. His post game is more refined and his defence has improved. He’s also cut down on unnecessary three pointers.
I disagree with the narrative that he made some big leap these past few weeks. I think he played his game, without having to worry about sharing the ball with Wade (who, to his credit, willingly deferred a lot of his touches and allowed the offence to run through Bron), and he finally got the support he needed. Was he any less terrific in 2009? I don’t think so, but this year he had Wade coming through big in the last 4 games against Indiana. He had Bosh hitting 3 huge threes in game 7 against Boston. He had Battier hitting 5 threes to help them get their first win in the finals. I can’t say enough good things about what Chalmers did in game 4 either, or what Wade did to close that game out. And then of course the biggest example of all in game 5, where Miller went nuts and everyone on the Heat grouped together and played well. THAT is what Bron has been missing. Maybe not last year, last year he struggled against Dallas, and part of that failure is on him. But those 7 ring-less years in Cleveland are not on him.
Maybe people will finally acknowledge that since he has proved he can win. I thought it was a stupid narrative this whole time, but that’s what happens in our world. I’m fine with the adulation that Lebron is going to receive this summer, as it is well deserved after the shit storm he went through following The Decision. I’m prepared for the biggest flip flop in fandom I’ve ever seen, where all these media puppets making ring-less king jokes will get back on the Bron bandwagon. I’ll laugh my way through it as people say that they’ve always believed in the man and never meant anything bad to come from their writing.
I’m sure it will be a relief of sorts for the newly crowned king, because although he claims to have tuned out all the noise I’m sure he still harbours resentment for the way he’s been treated. Or maybe he truly doesn’t care. Maybe he’ll ignore everyone and act as if the world is silent. Lebron James deserves some media silence. Finally, after 9 long years of true brilliance, he shut everyone up.