clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Blaming LeBron James for the Cavaliers' final loss is dumb

LeBron James was brilliant against a great team with awful teammates. If you're looking for reasons to hate LeBron James, this isn't one of them.

SB Nation's 2015 NBA Finals Guide

LeBron James' team just lost the NBA Finals. It's not LeBron James' fault.

We are not LeBron James stans. We understand that it is quite possible that he can fail, and that on some points in his career, he has failed.

This is not one of those failures. Calling this a failure implies the Golden State Warriors aren't good. Calling this a failure implies James underperformed. Calling this a failure implies James' teammates were good enough to win.

None of these things are true. In fact, pretty much the opposite of all three are true. Criticizing LeBron James for this series is stupid, unless you think it's reasonable to criticize a guy who played really well for the fact that his teammates were awful and his opponents were incredible.

LeBron was amazing

James was brilliant as a scorer. With the best defense hounding him, he dropped 35.8 points per game. James was brilliant as a passer, averaging 8.8 assists per game. James was brilliant as a rebounder, averaging 13.3 rebounds per game.

LeBron was brilliant doing everything. He was the first player in NBA history to lead both teams in points, rebounds, and assists in the Finals. He was the first player to average over 35 points, eight rebounds, and five assists in the Finals. (He cleared that one by a bit.) He had the first 40-point triple double in the NBA Finals in 30 years. He averaged twice as many points, rebounds, and assists as the player who won Finals MVP, Andre Iguodala.

James did this on nearly no rest, and with no other decent offensive option on his team. That's amazing.

The Warriors are really incredible

The Warriors were a great team. Historically great, in fact. The Warriors won 67 regular-season games, tied for fourth-most of all time. They had an average point differential of 10.2 points per game, the eight-best of all time. They had the second-best offense in the league in terms of efficiency and the best in terms of points per game. They had the best defense in terms of efficiency.

When the postseason started, they didn't relent. They only dropped three games in three series to win the Western Conference, which was among the most stacked conferences in NBA history.

Only one team with a higher per-game point differential than the Warriors (the 1971-72 Bucks) and only one team with more wins than the Warriors (the 1972-73 Celtics) failed to win the NBA Finals. It makes sense that the Warriors won.

The Warriors were better on offense than the Cavs, better on defense than the Cavs, had a deeper bench than the Cavs, were less injured than the Cavs, and had strategies that attacked the Cavs' weaknesses. This was a mismatch.

LeBron's teammates were butt

This probably would've been an uphill battle with Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving, their second- and third-best players. Then both got hurt!

Timofey Mozgov was the best healthy player besides LeBron, and his primary skill is finishing shots James set up. Tristan Thompson was probably next best, and he isn't much of a scorer outside of putbacks. J.R. Smith, Matthew Dellavedova, and Iman Shumpert combined to average 25 points on 30 shots per game. (That is bad.) James Jones was okay, if one-dimensional. The Cavaliers didn't regularly play any other players, meaning these six bad-to-mediocre players and LeBron were the only options.

LeBron's teammates were completely, utterly hapless unless James made things happen. There was the time James scored or assisted 16 of 17 first half baskets in Game 5. And there's the fact that entering Game 6, the Cavs scored 97.2 points per 100 possessions when James was on the court and just 54.6 when he was off the court. One of those is sub-par. The other is egregiously awful.

★★★

LeBron James led an outgunned team into a matchup against one of the best teams in NBA history, and the Cavs probably should have been swept. Instead, they won two games and only got blown out once. The only reason is because of James' play.

Many people are very passionate about insisting LeBron James isn't so great. That he isn't Michael Jordan, that he isn't Kobe Bryant.

If you must insist James isn't great, point to one of the times he wasn't great. It's happened before!

In 2010, James took the best team in the NBA and failed to get it out of the conference semifinals, losing to the Celtics in a series featuring a 32-point home blowout in Game 5. In 2011, James and the superstar-filled Heat had a 2-1 lead on the Mavericks, the team with the third-best record in the Western Conference. James fell apart, finishing third on the team in scoring after a string of dismal individual performances.

Using this series as evidence is completely ridiculous. Michael Jordan never had to play an opponent this good, by either win percentage or point differential. Michael Jordan never had to play the opponents he did play with as little help as James.  Would Jordan have been able to overcome the odds James faced this year due to his incredible greatness? Maybe! We'll never know. He never had to.

Criticizing LeBron James for the way he played this series is patently absurd. He was brilliant, but the odds were so stacked against him that his brilliance was futile. That shouldn't be a demerit in his book. It should be a credit to the team that just beat him, and a reminder that there's nothing sadder than a great performance squandered.

SB Nation presents: The 3-pointer has gone from novelty to necessary