(Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
LeBron James is in the middle of one of the most exceptional performances in NBA Finals history.
We've seen more efficient, successful performance in the Finals, but we haven't seen a player completely take control of a team the way LeBron has. He's the primary ball handler, post player, distributor, creator, and scorer. He's responsible for everything Cleveland does on offense. If you go backwards from the moment the Cavs make any given basket, you'll almost always find that LeBron was, in some way, the origin.
Consider the degree of difficulty for what LeBron is attempting to do.
He's playing with one of the worst supporting casts to ever make the NBA Finals. According to Nate Silver's site, this Cavs supporting casts ranks 60th out of the last 62 Finals teams. To make things even harder, some of LeBron's key cast members are playing below their standard. J.R. Smith is in a shooting slump, hitting just 26% of his 3's in the Finals compared to 39% in the rest of the playoffs. Iman Shumpert, the other Cavs wing player who should theoretically benefit from LeBron dominating the ball so much, is shooting 27% from the floor.
This Cavs team has no business pushing the best team in the NBA to six games, yet here we are.
To say LeBron is a one-man team would be to ignore the difference Cleveland's wildly improved defense has made on this series. The Cavs have gone from one of the worst defensive teams in the NBA to one of the best in the space of nine months. If they were merely an okay defensive team in these Finals instead of an elite one, the series would already be over.
So yeah, LeBron isn't a one-man team, but he very much is a one-man offense. Some illustrative stats:
- LeBron has taken 34 or more shots in a game 11 times in his career. Five of those have come in this year's playoffs, and four of them have come in the 2015 Finals.
- LeBron's usage rate — which measures the number of possessions a player uses when he's on the court — is at nearly 40%. For comparison, the highest usage rate in a season in NBA history is 38.7% by Kobe Bryant in 2005-06. The point: LeBron is dominating the ball more in these Finals more than anyone has ever done.
If the Cavs score, it's almost ways because of LeBron:
CLE last 13 possessions:LeBron astLeBronLeBron astLeBronLeBron astLeBronLeBron astLeBronLeBron astLeBron astLeBronLeBronLeBron— Tom Haberstroh (@tomhaberstroh) June 15, 2015
Seriously, Part 1:
Seriously, Part 2:
Cavs had 17 baskets in that first half. LeBron either scored or assisted on 16 of them.— Chris Herring (@HerringWSJ) June 15, 2015
LeBron is putting up so eye-popping numbers as a result of this. He's nearly averaging a triple double at 36 points, 12 rebounds, and nine assists.
ME LAST WEEK: Ha the only way the Cavs win this series is if LeBron avgs 40 and a triple doubleME NOW: pic.twitter.com/oJwiJu8Ytd— Mark Agee (@MarkAgee) June 10, 2015
You just don't see this type of production for any other player in the NBA:
Since 1985, players with 35/11/11 in playoffs: LeBron (2009), LeBron (2010), LeBron (2015), LeBron (2015), LeBron (2015).— Ben Golliver (@BenGolliver) June 15, 2015
Every time down the court, the Cavs are looking for LeBron to do something. He can't take possessions off. Every 20 seconds he backing someone down, or fighting for post position, or getting up a head of steam to drive to the basket. The closest he gets to a rest on offense is when he takes a three:
LeBron isn't just playing 45 of a possible 48 minutes per night in the Finals, he's playing some of the most labor-intensive minutes we've seen from an NBA player.
Sports scientist Michael Young told ESPN's Tom Haberstroh that LeBron's workload is "unfathomable." He compared it to the Tour de France, but with more physical contact.
"Every one of these NBA guys are under a tremendous amount of stress at this point, but LeBron in particular, playing 46 minutes a game with that travel and quick turnaround ... it's a little insane. That's unbelievable, really, to bear that mental and physical burden and still play at a high level."
At times, particularly in fourth quarters, LeBron will crack for a split second and you notice just how much of a toll this is taking. Late in Game 5 he switched off for only a moment, but it was enough for Harrison Barnes to steal away a rebound:
After the game LeBron — who finished with 40 points, 14 rebounds, and 11 assists — pointed to the two plays he didn't make.
"I don't know. I don't put a ceiling on what I can do. I don't know. I mean, tonight I gave up two offensive rebounds — one to Barbosa in the first half, one to Harrison Barnes, which allowed him to get an and‑one with Iguodala with the left‑hand trick shot," he said.
This is the sad reality for Cleveland: even with LeBron pushing the limits of how far an individual player can carry a team alone, it's not enough, they need more.
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