Through three games, LeBron James has 123 points — the most of anyone in NBA history through three Finals games. One more than Rick Barry in 1975, a couple more than the logo himself Jerry West back in 1969. LeBron’s 41 points a game average so far ties Michael Jordan’s highest-scoring Finals average. LeBron has scored these points while dragging a group of role players who, on paper, shouldn’t still be playing in June, to a 2-1 series in the NBA Finals.
And yet, because he’s LeBron James, there is criticism of his play.
LeBron has not been efficient getting all those points, shooting just 40.2 percent. The Cavaliers offense hasn’t been efficient this series with him scoring like this. LeBron acknowledged that criticism, then reminded everyone to check the scoreboard.
“I’m not okay with it, but I’m so outside the box right now,” LeBron said of his shooting percentage after Game 3. “I went seven straight seasons with improving my efficiency. Seven straight into this year, the previous seven seasons, seven straight seasons with improving my efficiency as far as shooting. But this is a different challenge. This is a totally different challenge. I’ve never played where two All-Stars were out. So it’s a different challenge for myself, and it’s outside the box, but it’s not too far. It’s not far for me to go grab….
“I’m high volume shooting, but it’s not like I’m going out there and I’m high volume shooting and I’m not doing anything else. I’m doing everything for our team to help our team win, and that’s all that matters.”
Everything, such as defending key guys every possession, or grabbing better than 12 rebounds and dishing out better than eight assists per game.
What we know about shooting efficiency is that it decreases the more offense a player has to take on, the higher the usage rate. LeBron’s usage rate through three Finals games is a crazy-high 42.4 — he has had to take on a ridiculously high percentage of the Cavaliers offensive load.
More than just the points (and rebounds, and assists), he’s controlling the tempo of the entire series — the average Finals game this series has had 93.7 possessions, that’s seven fewer possessions than the Warriors averaged during the regular season.
“He’s playing and we’re playing the way we want to play,” Cavaliers coach David Blatt said.
If you ask the other guys on the court, LeBron is also lifting up his teammates.
“I mean, LeBron [James] is playing well.” Draymond Green said. “First it was really just him playing well, but now everybody else has kind of fallen in line.”
“He’s playing great basketball for us, and we’re just getting on his shoulders and just riding him through the game,” Tristan Thompson added.
LeBron understands efficiency, but he’s had to sacrifice that in the name of getting enough points on the board to get wins. The idea that the Cavaliers’ offense couldn’t be much worse without him is fanciful — the Warriors had the best defense in the NBA all season and have played well these Finals. It is the Cavaliers defense that is the biggest key to their success.
But if LeBron isn’t putting up these points, the Cavaliers would be losing low-scoring games, not winning them.