As LeBron James collapsed to the Oracle Arena floor, overcome with emotion, beating the hardwood as he realised the enormity of what he had achieved it almost impossible not to feel happy for the guy. Here you have a man who has constantly been trying to live up to the ludicrously high expectations set by himself, the media and his generational talent level since he was 16. Last night after Cleveland’s 93-86 victory over the defending champion Golden State Warriors it finally felt like he had nothing left to prove.
It was fairytale ending to what has been a difficult season for James. With questions swirling about his jump shot, his social media presence and his ability to gel with superstar teammates Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving. All those questions dissolved at the final buzzer. As he has so often done throughout his career James ramped up his performance come playoff time, filtering out the distractions of the regular season and saving his very best for the most important moments.
In games 5 & 6 he was truly sensational in willing his team into a game 7 winner takes all situation, that few thought the Cavs would make it to. He was by no means perfect last night, looking tentative at times and turning the ball over early. Yet the stat sheet will say that he became the third player to record a triple double in a finals game 7 and he made a couple of plays that will be remembered for generations to come.
His 3 pointer to give the Cavs an 89-87 lead, a lead they would not relinquish, with 4:55 remaining was the definition of clutch. His chase down block on an Andre Iguodala lay up with the score tied at 89 was one of most ridiculously athletic plays you are ever likely to see. Finally James iced the game by making a free throw as the clock wound down to give the Cavs a 2 possession lead with seconds left on the clock.
James was not alone in coming up big for the Cavaliers down the stretch. Kyrie Irving’s dagger 3 over Steph Curry to put the Cavs up for good will be remembered, along with LeBron’s block, as the defining plays in the victory. Irving was excellent, playing much improved defence and constantly providing timely baskets to keep the Cavaliers in touch. Kevin Love has been much maligned this post season but last night he was outstanding. He wasn’t the offensive threat that he has been in his best seasons but he was a monster on the boards, playing with an energy that the Warriors couldn’t handle, giving the Cavs the extra possessions that are so vital in games when neither team is scoring efficiently.
Love was also crucial on a passage of play that will be perhaps be forgotten by many. With the Cavs up by 3, Love was isolated on Curry on the perimeter. It was the kind of situation which the reigning MVP has thrived on all season, breaking the ankles of lumbering bigs, leaving them chasing dust as he drained 3 after 3 after 3. Not last night though. Love played arguably the best defensive possession of his life, moving his feet with agility not associated with a man who stands 6’ 10”, staying in front of Curry and forcing him into an off balance shot which never looked like falling. Love’s defensive play had been identified as a key weakness before the series, but he came up huge when it really mattered.
JR Smith also contributed with a couple of crucial 3 pointers at the start of the 3rd quarter. Iman Shumpert’s 4 point play was big too. But at the end all the focus was on LeBron James, the Ohio native who ended a 52 year curse that had hung over the city of Cleveland. The man who had broken Cleveland hearts in 2010 when he had decided to leave had finally brought joy to generations of Cleveland sports fans who had never tasted success. The ghosts of the disappointments in 2007, 2014, 2015 and most infamously 2011 were banished and LeBron James could revel in a promise made and a promise kept to a city that has defined his life and his career.