The year is 2025 and the NBA world is starting to realise it is the end of an era. 40 year old LeBron James has finally stepped away from the game that was so great to him. After 22 years of pure excellence the resume reads; 12 Finals, 6 NBA Championships, 5 NBA MVPs and 6 NBA Finals MVPs.
LeBron’s unmatched dominance set the pillar for the future of basketball.
The 2025 NBA finals is days from commencing with new super teams Phoenix Suns and Boston Celtics set to battle it out. Phoenix is up against the wall similar to the 2017 Cavaliers. Brad Stevens and co. led by MVP Markelle Fultz reached the heights of the Golden State Warriors.
The only question raised was: Could Boston climb the mountain for a second time in three years? Were they able to do what Golden State could (or could not)?
Rewind back to current time. LeBron James’ 7th consecutive NBA finals are dawning upon us. Cleveland’s road to the finals reaffirmed in our eyes the greatness of LeBron.
LeBron is use to this sensation. The two previous seasons questioned LeBron’s dominance. Is Steph Curry surpassing LeBron? Those queries were seriously considered throughout the regular season, only for LeBron to step up in the finals and reach heights unseen.
2015 NBA finals stats: 45.7 MPG, 35.8 PPG, 13.3 RBS, 8.8 ASTS, 1.3 STLS, 0.5 BLKS
2016 NBA finals stats: 41.7 MPG, 29.7 PPG, 11.3 RBS, 8.9 ASTS, 2.6 STLS, 2.3 BLKS
Statistically feats above were only fathomable by one: Michael Jordan.
LeBron, as he has for the past years is heading into the finals with a lot of scepticism. Game 3 against Boston raised serious (yet unfair) questions of his greatness. The media was flooded with headlines doubting his ability to ‘show up’ when it matters most.
The challenge presented to the Cavaliers is one only the 1996 Seattle SuperSonics could fathom. The Warriors are coming off a stellar 2016 where the won a NBA record 73 games only to add Kevin Durant.
The Warriors, possessing four of the top twenty players in the league, NBA’s best sixth man, former all-star David West and experienced role players Shaun Livingston, Zaza Pachulia, Matt Barnes, Ian Clark and JaVale McGee (shockingly). No team is better.
Seattle valiantly lost in six games. The major difference between the SuperSonics and Cavaliers; LeBron James. The current third greatest player of all time has assembled a team built to shatter records and stun the world.
His star teammates Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love are capable of holding the offensive load for long stretches (seen countless times throughout the playoffs) and the blend of elite spot up shooters Channing Frye, Kyle Korver, Deron Williams, JR Smith and Iman Shumpert give LeBron the spacing and threats needed to ensure double teams are limited or annulled.
Cleveland’s greatest challenge will be on the defensive end. Coach Lue employed a heavy trap/blitz in all three playoff series to prevent Indiana’s, Toronto’s and Boston’s stars from being the primary ball handler.
This scheme worked efficiently and perfectly as role players, who weren’t capable, were forced to step up and hit open shots. Indiana was the only team to have success from the three point line, shooting a proficient 39.1%. The capable shooting of the Pacers resulted in the closet margin sweep in NBA history (a combined 14 points).
Toronto and Boston fared poorly (Boston 35.5% and Toronto 30%) and was indicative of the result. Unfortunately for the Cavaliers, defensive schemes such as this just simply will not work. Of all the current rotation players only Klay Thompson (36.4%), Patrick McCaw (38.9%) and Andre Igoudala (11.1%!) are shooting below 40% from three.
Trapping and blitzing leads to open shots, and open shots will be the death of the Cavaliers.
Cleveland may need to defer to previous tactics against the Warriors. Slow the pace down (92.0 last finals) and place Curry is as many pick and rolls as possible to physically wear him down. The saving grace for the Warriors this season is Kevin Durant.
Durant’s size makes it seemingly impossible to wear down. Place him in pick and rolls and the Warriors switch. Post him up… not possible, the man is seven foot. Durant can hide on defence, but he will not. His reinvigorated defensive mentality has catapulted the Warriors and himself into a new stratosphere.
The Warriors are now able to throw four different players onto LeBron, all with differing build and defensive skill sets.
On the other hand, LeBron will have the responsibility of slowing Durant down. A task that only LeBron and possibly JR Smith will have the size and skill to do. In reality, LeBron may be on an island but it’s a great island to be on.
On paper this series seems lopsided but once again LeBron’s greatness will shine through. In 8 or so years, we may look back on this series and summate that this was his defining moment.
History will be altered throughout the final chapter of the trilogy with our future selves potentially looking back on this as ‘The Greatest Dynasty vs The GOAT’.