After Game 1 of the NBA Finals, LeBron James has to be wondering what more he can do. All he did was score 44 points, grab eight rebounds and dish out six assists.
Yet, the narrative is getting pushed that it’s his fault that the Cleveland Cavaliers lost Game 1 to the Golden State Warriors. For example, on the ESPN show First Take, noted LeBron Hater Skip Bayless put the blame on James for his shot selection on the final shot of the game. Stephen A. Smith countered by saying that James took too many shots.
It’s like a scientific law at this point: If LeBron’s team loses, LeBron will be blamed, regardless of whether such criticism is deserved or not. And in this case, the backlash is most definitely unwarranted.
Consider this tweet from Zach Harper of CBSSports.com:
Cavs’ offensive rating in 46 minutes of LeBron Game 1: 105.2 (That’s solid)
Cavs’ offensive rating in 7 minutes without LeBron: 50.0.
— Zach Harper (@talkhoops) June 5, 2015
James did everything he could, but it just wasn’t enough. And now things are about to get worse, as Kyrie Irving may be out for the bulk of the series, if not the remainder of it.
Let’s remember that the Warriors are one of the best teams in the history of the NBA based on their seventh-best Simple Rating System (SRS) of 10.01, per Basketball-Reference.com. Let’s also remember that even with Irving, James’s supporting cast is the third-worst since 1985, per Neil Paine of FiveThirtyEight.com.
It’s actually not hyperbole to say no one has ever been asked to do more with less. Based on Paine’s numbers, Hakeem Olajuwon of the 1994 Houston Rockets had the least help among title winners. The Knicks team he beat is ranked No. 92 in historical SRS.
I don’t mean to sound like a James-apologist here, but there’s a point where the “blame the best player for the loss” narrative just becomes convenient and dumb.
Consider this: Since 1964, there have been 38 Finals games where a player scored 40 points, per Basketball-Reference.com. The teams of those players are just 22-16 in those games.
Out of those 16 losses, only three players went on to lead their teams to series wins: John Havlicek in 1969, Michael Jordan twice in 1993 and Shaquille O’Neal in 2001. In each of those cases, the player was on one of the greatest dynasties in the history of the game.
Which all comes back to the point: There’s a limit to how much you can ask one man to do. That even goes for the greatest player ever. And if James had Irving around, that might be enough for him to accomplish the impossible.
But with Irving tweaking his knee in overtime, even that possibility hangs by a thread.
If you’re ready to put Smith in the same company as those guys, go ahead and throw the entire loss at the feet of James. If not, it’s a good idea to re-think your position.
Maybe we should look at the limited help that James got from teammates not named Irving. Or hey, maybe we should just consider that the Warriors are a better team? That the best player always needs to bear the burden of a series loss is pure sophistry, and we should have reached the point in this discussion by now that it’s antiquated thinking.