OAKLAND — It feels like we’ve been here before with LeBron James.
Two games into the NBA Finals, he has continued one of the best postseasons of his Hall of Fame career, holding his own with Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry. Sunday night in Game 2 LeBron had 29 points, 11 rebounds, and 14 assists — a triple-double that ties him with Magic Johnson for most in the Finals with eight. He attacked the rim mercilessly in the first half while bearing heavy responsibilities on the defensive end. He did everything Cleveland could have asked of him.
It didn’t matter. His Cavaliers were blown out, 132-113. It’s the second straight game to follow that script. LeBron played to the point of clearly being gassed late in the fourth, he gave his everything, but facing a Warriors team stacked like few the league has ever seen it hasn’t been anywhere near enough.
We have been here before with LeBron — he has lifted teams to this stage only to find his squads outmatched. There was 2007, when a 22-year-old LeBron played well and got his Cavs to a Finals they had no business being in, and it showed when they were swept by the Spurs. There was 2014, when playing for Miami LeBron averaged 28.2 points per game, 7.8 rebounds and 4 assists a night yet the Spurs won in five. The next year in 2015 LeBron had a legitimate case for Finals MVP averaging 35.8 points,13.3 rebounds, and 8.8 assists per game, but the Warriors won in six.
This year’s Finals seem to be traveling down a familiar road.
Not that LeBron is throwing in the towel.
“We’re going to go home and watch the film to see ways we can be better,” he said in the Cavaliers locker room after the game. “Do things – I don’t want to say differently because you work so hard to get to this point – but make a couple of changes to see if we can be a lot better defensively and offensively. I thought for the most part with the game plan that we had we tried to execute it as close as possible. Much more physical today than we were in Game 1. And we forced them to 20 turnovers and they still beat us pretty good, so we got to be much better too…
“Well, it got a little out of control towards the end but we’re not worried about that. We made runs – we cut it to four at one point and then they went on quick 9-0 run or 12-0 run. That’s what they do. That’s what Golden State does. If you make a mistake – like I said, we had a turnover, it came from me, and then we had a miscue and the floods opened again.
The Cavaliers biggest problems are on defense, and while LeBron is their best defender he can only do so much. He is surrounded by mostly neutral or minus defenders and the Warriors style of play exposes that. LeBron has guarded Durant and Draymond Green, switched onto Curry, and at times in Game 2 played a little free safety helping off of Shaun Livingston. But he is just one man adrift in a sea of bad defensive decisions by Cleveland.
LeBron created a stir after Game 2 by being a little frustrated — with the NBA and with the media crowded around him. LeBron opted not to speak at the podium postgame where players of his stature normally speak (it is the space where the most media fit and the stationed cameras are), instead choosing to do a “scrum” around him in the locker room. Reportedly he’s been frustrated with the NBA and how it handles the postgame podium sessions (he had to wait a lot) so he’s going on his own.
Then there was this exchange with a reporter.
Q: LeBron, do you just feel this is a case where you just have to defend home court at this point?
James: Well, are you a smart guy?
Q: I think so.
James: Well, if we don’t defend home court, then what happens?
Q: Then you guys are looking at getting swept.
James: Alright, so that answers your question.
If LeBron is a little frustrated, can you blame him? He’s poured everything he’s had into the last two games, it hasn’t mattered. The future outlook is bleak.
He’s been down this road before. One can’t blame him for not wanting to travel it again.