LeBron James is on his way to his fifth straight Finals and we’re all marveling at this feat for numerous reasons.
He’s the first player to ever do that while playing on two different teams. And with all the adversity he’s had to overcome with the contentious decision of going back to Cleveland, playing under a rookie head coach with a roster rife with talented-but-inexperienced players, and the boatload of injuries, many surmise that this might be his greatest accomplishment.
If Harrison Barnes walked into the food-court of a mall outside of Golden State, no one would probably recognize him. This isn’t something that can be said about LeBron James of course. This doesn’t serve as an indictment on Barnes, it just shows you that he just doesn’t have the cachet of the King. But in the Finals, Barnes will be looking to garner the attention of everyone by making a major contribution to the “stop LeBron James” project.
The city of Cleveland was distraught when their King decided to bolt to Miami in pursuit of greener pastures and shinier hardware. Fans were in a frenzy and the uproar resulted in the burning of jerseys and a united “We hate LeBron” front. But James decided that his path to righteousness, despite already capturing titles that separated him from the all-time greats, would ultimately require him bringing Northeast Ohio a championship parade celebration that they’re not too familiar with.
The King has now won 17 of his last 19-playoff series, which is absolutely remarkable despite him playing in the inept Eastern Conference. His teams have now won a road game in 21 consecutive series, which is only second to Michael Jordan (24). He’s dominating the East similar to how his idol Jordan did during the 90’s.
James doesn’t need MVP awards to validate his greatness, which is confirmed by his production on the floor, the leadership he exudes in the locker room and the narratives of those Cavs and Heat teams after his departure.
The 27.6 points per game LeBron has averaged thus far in the playoffs is the highest since the 2011-12 season when he won his first title. He’s made the effort to take on more of the scoring load in light of the injuries plaguing Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving.
He’s also asserted himself on the glass and distributing the basketball to the tune of career-highs in rebounds (10.4) and assists (8.3). As the case has been throughout his amazing career, James has his imprint on multiple areas of the game.
Amidst the early struggles in Cleveland, LeBron took an impromptu two-week sabbatical that saw his team drop to 19-20 on the year. During this stretch, the Cavs visited the Oracle Arena and were just overmatched. Seeking revenge in the Dubs’ trip to the Q, James erupted for 42 points, 11 rebounds and five assists.
The Warriors had no answer for LeBron and his efficiency (15-of-25 from the field), as they fell 110-99. Hopefully for the Warriors’ sake, they’ll look at the film from the game and ameliorate their attack against him.
If there’s any hope for Golden State to contain him, they’ll need to force him to shoot from the perimeter. He’s shot a career-low 17 percent from beyond the arc. In fact, LeBron just hasn’t been that efficient from the field, which isn’t something we’ve grown accustomed to as of late. His 42.8 field-goal percentage is the lowest it has been since the 2007-08 postseason. James is actually averaging the most field-goal attempts per game of his career (24.9). We’ll see if a healthier Irving will cause that number to diminish to some degree and cause a spike in his efficiency.
With more ball dominance comes a high-rate of turnovers for James as well. The 4.4 turnovers per game this postseason is a career high. In that 42-point performance back on February 26th, the only blemish on the stat sheet for him was the six turnovers he had.
During the playoffs so far, the Warriors have scored 21.6 points per game on fastbreaks, which is first among all the playoff teams and points off turnovers. As illustrated, they would certainly benefit from James continuing his turnover woes. They’re a team that thrives in transition. We’ve seen this often lead to emphatic dunks in the past with other teams, but with the three-point high-octane offense in Golden State, we see them make you pay from downtown on fastbreaks as well.
Harrison Barnes will get that start at the small-forward position for the Western Conference champion Warriors. After extreme cogitation, rookie head coach Steve Kerr elected to replace Andre Iguodala in the starting lineup and penciled in Barnes. Although this move might have initially raised eyebrows, it has certainly worked out in favor of Golden State.
After enduring a sophomore slump, Barnes came out strong this season averaging 10.1 points per game on 48 percent shooting. During the postseason, he’s increased his scoring to 11.3 points.
This level of production from him will be needed in the Finals against the Cavs. Back in that game on February 26th, Barnes was solid with 11 points and seven rebounds. He also scored 11 in their victory over Cleveland back in January.
The Golden State fans last saw Barnes score 24 points on 10-of-20 from the field in the closeout game of the Western Conference Finals. With Houston surging and climbing back into the game, Barnes ignited his team offensively. His fourth quarter scoring outburst shut the door on the Rockets’ comeback and punched his teams ticket into the Finals for the first time since 1975.
Barnes will be one of the many Kerr calls on the guard LeBron James, as he’ll likely try to throw different looks at him. His length and athleticism might go a long way in defending James, but then again, he is LeBron James … does anyone ever successfully guard him?
In the end, whatever matchup involving James will favor Blatt and the Cavs. LeBron is a four-time league MVP. He’s a two-time champion. Did I mention he’s the greatest player on the planet? Meanwhile, Harrison Barnes is just in his third year in the league. He’s a kid from Ames, Iowa looking to make a name for himself.
Kerr will likely throw Draymond Green, Klay Thompson, Iguodala and Barnes all at LeBron. But either way, I expect Barnes to continue to exude confidence on the floor and relish this matchup. The Warriors are just four wins away from a title. There’s no need to start backing down now. You’ve made it this far.
Just like the Seattle Seahawks are more than just the “Legion Of Boom,” there’s more to the Golden State Warriors than the Splash Brothers. Harrison Barnes will be looking to rise to the challenge and show the nation that when the Finals begin.