Hooley: Watch closely, you're seeing greatness

posted by Bruce Hooley -

I don't know how much longer we're going to see what we're seeing, so if you're not watching and appreciating it, you better sit up and take notice before it's gone.

If he’s not the greatest basketball player in history, LeBron James is no worse than the second-best all time. How many times do we get to say, with certainty, that we’re watching the second-greatest anything?

That’s why you should take time to pause and appreciate the wonder of LeBron right now. If you’re too young to plug into those conversations you sometimes hear about Oscar Robertson, Wilt Chamberlain, John Havlicek or other old-timers, think about the day when the generation after you knows nothing of LeBron first-hand.

You’ll be envied for witnessing LeBron in his prime.

You can engage in all those, “Who's better, Jordan or LeBron?” arguments if you like, but I prefer to simply appreciate the magnificence of LeBron's performance in the NBA Playoffs at an age where most NBA legends are trending down.

LeBron is 32 and in his 14th NBA season.

But here are his numbers in the sweep of the Raptors after the Cavs' 109-102 victory on Sunday: 36 points, 8.3 rebounds, 5.3 assists, 57% field goal shooting, 48% three-point shooting and 83% free throw shooting.

There was considerable talk near the end of the regular season when the Cavs were blowing the top seed in the East that they would have to flip the switch in the post-season to defend their NBA title.

Most experts scoffed at that, because no team has ever done it.

But no team has LeBron, and so here we are two series and 8 games into the playoffs and the switch has indeed been flipped.

If you don't believe me, maybe you'll believe Raptors coach Dwane Casey.

“They did flip a switch,” Casey said. “They are a totally different team defensively and definitely offensively. Anybody that thinks anything differently doesn’t know anything about basketball.”

The Cavs can be one team in the regular season and another in the post-season because their best player is capable of reaching new levels of amazement.

LeBron was great during the regular season. He's in another world once the playoffs start.

His teams have now reached the Eastern Confernece Finals 9 times in 14 years and each of the last 7 years.

The Cavs are 32-4 against the East in the playoffs since he returned. They've won 12 straight closeout games and 19 straight first- and second-round games.

The sweep of the Raptors allows Cleveland to start the post-season 8-0 for the second straight year, which no team in NBA history has ever done, and it gives the Cavs at least a week of rest before the Eastern Conference Finals will begin either next Monday or next Wednesday.'

Sunday, LeBron scored 35 points on 22 shots. In Game 2, he had 39 points on 14 field goal attempts.

He's the first player in NBA history with 25 points or more on 50% shooting in 7 straight playoff games that were all wins.

There's a part of me that still wonders whether the supporting cast around James is good enough to defeat Golden State in the NBA Finals.

I still think it would be an upset if the Cavs defend their title.

But the reason I give them a fighting chance is because I've learned not to count out LeBron, no matter what the circumstances.

It's not just that he can do whatever the Cavs need him to do. It's that he has a unique ability to sense what his team needs him to do, and then deliver it on demand.

James will often have a modest first quarter scoring, then end in the mid-30s or 40s.

He'll sometimes take over right from the outset, then stop scoring and wind up with a triple-double, feeding a win with his rebounds and assists.

James was in scoring mode much of the first three quarters Sunday while Kyrie Irving struggled. Then LeBron switched into facilitator mode, occupying the defense while Irving scored 11 straight points in the Cavs' getaway.

He and Kyrie wound up scoring or assisting on 92 of the Cavs' 109 points.

In shooters like Kyle Korver, Channing Frye, Kevin Love and J.R. Smith, the Cavs have ideal complimentary pieces to place around James and Irving to keep opponents guessing defensively.

But none of it would work if LeBron wasn't willing to step back and let others shine. Not only is he willing. He almost seems to get more enjoyment out of his teammates scoring than he does himself.

Again, that doesn't guarantee the Cavs anything going forward.

Beating Indianapolis and Toronto, particularly without Kyle Lowry in the final two games, is a far cry from beating Golden State in the Finals.

The Cavs and Warriors are a combined 15-0 this postseason and rank first and second in scoring, field-goal percentage and point differential.

The Warriors have won their seven games by an average of 15.1 points. The Cavs have swept through the first two rounds winning by an average of 9.6 points.

They are two runaway trains, seemingly bound for an epic collision in what would be the first time in NBA Finals history that two teams have met for a title in three consecutive seasons.

I don't know how that will end. But I'm pretty sure LeBron James will summon something special for that moment, and I'm absolutely sure it will be something we won't dare turn our eyes away from.

Comments

title

Content Goes Here

This ad will close in X seconds.