Even the most optimistic handicappers only gave the Cavs a puncher’s chance to beat the Warriors, but this is ridiculous.
When the puncher broke his hand punching what is now the most famous whiteboard in NBA history, following the Cavs’ demoralizing overtime loss in Game 1, it left the Cavs … yep:
But a wounded King was still a dangerous King. In Game 1 LeBron James scored 51 points, with eight rebounds and eight assists.
In the last three games, playing with what he said was “pretty much a broken hand,” LeBron still averaged 28.3 points, 8.7 rebounds and 10.7 assists, proving once again that he’s still the best player in the world, even when playing with one hand tied behind his back.
Where the broken hand clearly hurt LeBron the most was in shooting from distance. In Game 1, with two healthy hands, he shot 43 percent (3-for-7) from behind the arc. In the last three games, playing with a broken right (shooting) hand, he shot 27 percent on threes (3-for-11). In the last two games he was 1-for-7 from distance.
Where the broken hand hurts the most, however, is in the coming months, when LeBron decides where he’s going to play next season. Does he want to play for a team that lost a game in such frustrating fashion that it caused him to throw a hand-breaking punch at a defenseless whiteboard?
What’s left of that whiteboard took the figurative punch the Cavs intended to use on the heavily favored Warriors.
Instead, it was the Cavs who absorbed four “Down goes Frazier!” moments in their four-game cameo as Chuck Wepner (“The Bayonne Bleeder”) to the Warriors’ Muhammad Ali.
That shouldn’t diminish, by the way, the Herculean effort by LeBron throughout the Cavs’ playoff run, in which they won three of four series, including two Game 7s, one on the road, as LeBron put on one of the most astonishing displays of strength, stamina and skill ever seen by a professional athlete.
In the last 30 years, only two teams have won four consecutive Eastern Conference championships, and both of them had LeBron: the Cavs over the last four years, and Miami in the four years prior to that.
The Cavs’ victory in Game 7 of the East finals in Boston two weeks ago is one of the greatest Cavs wins in franchise history. It was the signature moment in the most tumultuous Cavs season ever and should never be forgotten or discounted just because the Cavs got kicked to the curb in the Finals.
But history is fleeting, especially if LeBron is fleeing. Beating Boston in Game 7 and losing to Golden State in a sweep are two gigantic moments — one good, one bad — in Cavs history. But both pale in significance to LeBron’s upcoming decision.
Good luck trying to handicap that one.
Do the Cavs have a puncher’s chance of keeping him?
Yeah, sure. Why not?
He was born here. He was raised here. His two sons are basketball players, who, if he stays here, would presumably attend and, with their buddies, be stars at his old high school, St. Vincent-St. Mary, just like he was. What could be cooler than that for a dad?
His LeBron James Family Foundation is headquartered in Akron. He’s a selfless, charitable, impeccable hero and role model for thousands, many of whom not only worship him, but KNOW him.
All that has to count for something.
But none of that has anything to do with his day job: basketball.
That’s the other side of the equation. Crassly put: LeBron is still chasing rings. Politely put: He wants to win championships. If he has to leave Ohio to do that, well, then brace yourself, Ohio.
The hodgepodge, makeshift, throw-it-against-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks roster the Cavs ended the season with cannot look overly promising to LeBron, whose self-inflicted, frustration-fueled broken hand speaks for itself.
Let’s face it. During the Cavs’ playoff run, whatever needed doing, LeBron pretty much had to do it himself. It worked all the way to the Finals, when the Cavs ran into a team with four certifiable heavy lifters.
None of this is news to LeBron, who is not only the best player in the league, but the smartest one, as well. At 33, with 15 years of NBA mileage on his basketball treads, he knows his Rolex is ticking.
If he leaves, it should be minus any nasty, jersey-burning histrionics by the fandom. He returned, and he delivered. He won the championship he promised, and in this year’s playoffs he produced a lifetime’s worth of thrills for those who care.
It would be terrific if he stays. But if not, in the words of Gus McCrae in that great scene near the end of “Lonesome Dove”: It’s been one hell of a party.
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