The NBA Finals haven’t exactly gone as most people have planned.
The Warriors came into this series as the better team with more offensive firepower (by default at this point with Cleveland’s injuries), a deeper bench, a seemingly better coach and an elite defense with four good-to-great perimeter defenders (Klay Thompson, Harrison Barnes, Andre Iguodala, Draymond Green) to throw on the one advantage Cleveland does have — the world’s best player, LeBron James. Thus far, it hasn’t really mattered because Cleveland’s defense has zeroed in, Tristan Thompson and Timofey Mozgov have controlled the glass, and most notably, LeBron has been historic — a will-crushing, logic-defying battering ram of excellence that I’m not sure the NBA has ever seen before.
Through three games, LeBron James has an NBA Finals record 123 points, sporting averages of 41 points, 12 rebounds, 8.3 assists, 1.6 steals and a block. To this point, only Rick Barry (40.8 PPG, 1967) and Michael Jordan (41 PPG, 1993) have averaged 40 PPG in a Finals series. Once you add in the rebounding, passing and defense, nobody has done what LeBron has done to this point.
What seemed like a sound plan for Golden State — allowing LeBron to try to go 1-on-5 while focusing on the role players — has had a trickle-down effect they weren’t ready for; they’ve been thrown completely out of rhythm offensively. LeBron has been methodical and relentless in his attack, pounding the ball in the mid-post, chewing up the shot clock while surveying the court for driving lanes or passing angles. The result of that isn’t just LeBron’s insane per-game numbers; the game has slowed down to a snail’s pace — I’m talking Tom Brady at the NFL Combine.
As great as LeBron’s per-game numbers have been, he’s been unusually inefficient, especially by his standards. Typically lauded for his efficiency and unselfishness, LeBron is shooting 40.2 percent from the field while taking an unprecedented 35.3 shots per game. LeBron has clearly never shot this much; heck, nobody in NBA Finals history has averaged as many shot attempts as LeBron is for an entire series.
This is where the irony comes in.
All across social media, LeBron-Kobe and LeBron-Jordan comparisons rage on. People who take Kobe or Jordan over LeBron tend to point to three things: team loyalty (which is a little stupid, but that’s a different article for another day), killer instinct and rings. The first one is a bonus I suppose, and the third one is valid but circumstantial. The argument of killer instinct, the intangible ability to will a team to victory no matter the cost (taking and making any and every shot necessary as opposed to passing up shots/making the basketball play) has always been used as a tiebreaker in Kobe/MJ-LeBron debates specifically.
Supporters of LeBron in these debates combat the perceived lack of killer instinct by throwing out the shot totals, assist totals and inefficiency of Kobe Bryant and, to a much lesser extent efficiency-wise, Michael Jordan. LeBron is more of a pass-first player than those two, and despite his scoring explosion, has still managed to hand out over 8 dimes a game in this series.
In light of Cleveland lacking offensive weapons with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love injured, LeBron has “emptied the clip”and seemingly tapped into that will and killer instinct that some fans didn’t think he had in him. So it’s a bit funny to see some of the critiques LeBron has gotten, and just how familiar they sound:
“LeBron is shooting the ball 35 times a night, he BETTER be averaging 40!”
“LeBron’s averaging 40 shooting 40 percent from the field and he’s the GOAT? What about when MJ shot over 50 percent from the field while averaging 40 against Phoenix in ’93?”
“If Kobe shot this much and missed this many shots a game, he’d be getting killed by the media….”
“Allen Iverson got called a ballhog for shooting like this…”
“When Russell Westbrook was shooting like this with no Durant, he was called a ballhog and a stat-padder….”
While a select few have criticized LeBron for his inefficiency, he’s generally received heaps of praise. In a vacuum, is it fair that LeBron has been so praised for his Finals effort despite his inefficiency, while guys like Kobe and Iverson have been criticized for their shot attempts? Of course it isn’t. However, I don’t think the issue is LeBron getting praised; the issue is that the other players got bashed.
At some point, context has to matter for EVERYONE, and not just select players. At some point, people must realize that not only is there more than one way or playing style to win a title (as a loose comparison, Kobe and Magic Johnson each have five titles and we ALL know how different their approach is), but that it’s PERFECTLY OKAY. It’s okay to have preferences, whether it be for cold-blooded killers/attackers (in the basketball sense, of course) like MJ and Kobe, or more “team-friendly” players like Magic and LeBron, but ultimately the goal is to win. If it’s legal and it wins, play style, shot totals and efficiency shouldn’t really matter that much at the end of the day.
That doesn’t just apply to LeBron James, but to everyone.