LeBron James is a really good professional basketball player. He should be in every basketball fan’s top-3 of all-time rankings, unanimously, at this point. Like him or hate him, he’s there. And he’s going to remain there for a very long time. That’s just where we are. He’s one of the very best basketball players we’ve ever seen. That will never change.
It’s been a pleasure watching him make the lives of every fan of a team in the Eastern Conference a living Hell for the last eight years. An NBA Finals matchup that doesn’t feature James would feel weird. It would feel wrong. It would feel like we, the NBA fan populous, missed out on something. The best basketball player in the world should be in the NBA Finals. This is basketball, this is how it should work.
We were one game away from LeBron James missing his first NBA Finals since 2010, which, oddly enough would have snapped the Boston Celtics streak of not advancing to the NBA Finals. This Celtics team did not belong in the NBA Finals. Not because they wouldn’t have deserved it, but this incarnation, without Kyrie Irving, without Gordon Hayward, without Daniel Theiss -- I kid, I kid -- would have felt right. Outside of Boston fans, who really wants to see Terry Rozier go up against Stephen Curry in the final series of the 2017-18 NBA season? This Boston group is going to be very good for a very long time, they’ll get back to the NBA Finals at some point, and Jayson Tatum will hit a Kyrie-like shot from 2016 NBA Finals to win the Celtics another NBA title.
But this isn’t their time, this isn’t their moment. This postseason’s story has been about LeBron James, in Year 14 of his NBA career, dragging Jordan Clarkson, Jeff Green, J.R. Smith, and George Hill to the NBA Finals. For James’ story to end in Boston, just short of eight-straight Finals appearances, would have been as deflating as the series finale for “The Sopranos” -- “Wait, what just happened? Is that really how this ends?” It never ends like we far too often expect, but that doesn’t make it any less frustrating. If this is it for LeBron in Cleveland, he should go out like Jon Snow in the Battle of the Bastards -- unsheathe the sword and go down in style. (Unfortunately for James, though, is there is no last-minute help headed his way -- no Kyrie, no prime Dwyane Wade, no prime Chris Bosh, not even his old friend prime Zydrunas Illgauskas. It’s LeBron, alone and on a mission to humiliate the Golden State Warriors the only way he can -- by himself.
With that, here are five questions I have following, you guessed it, Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals.
Question No. 1: Is it weird that it felt weird for the final score of this game to be 87-79 in 2018?
No, it didn’t. Weirdly, it felt right. It reminded me of the last time the Boston Celtics were real contenders almost a decade ago. It reminded me of the days when the Los Angeles Lakers were contending, it reminded me of the Detroit Pistons, it reminded me of so many other teams that I grew up watching. Sure, the game was still different, the Celtics missed a lot of shots, but there is something nice about the Celtics finishing an important playoff game with only 79 points, right?
Question No. 2: How annoying will the “Please Appreciate LeBron” police be over the next couple of weeks?
Very. This is a very bad basketball team that LeBron just dragged to the NBA Finals. This is a team that came very close to falling to Victor Oladipo and friends in Round 1. This is a team that found a way to survive a Game 7 on the road without Kevin Love to deliver the only home loss of the postseason for the Celtics. What James has done this postseason is obviously impressive, it is obviously insane, but we don’t need to shame people for not appreciating LeBron James enough. Is there really a basketball fan that isn’t appreciating James’ greatness enough at this point? If there is, why do you care? Why are you engaging with someone who can’t appreciate LeBron James dragging Jeff freakin’ Green to the NBA Finals?
Let’s talk about something anything else. Yes, that includes whether or not the Orlando Magic should hire Kelvin Sampson. (Remember when this team was contending for championships? Sorry, Magic fans.)
Question No. 3: Will I ever get a full understanding of George Hill, the basketball player?
No, I will not. Hill is a very good three-point shooter. Hill is, when he wants to be, a very good defender. Hill can pass, he can play off the ball, he can do just about everything except shoot the basketball a lot. He has no interest in it. I’m convinced that when George Hill looks in the mirror George Hill sees Andre Roberson. He has to be one of the most infuriating players to play with because you never know what you’re going to get, but you do know you’re never going to get Aggressive George Hill on a consistent basis.
No, Hill likes to keep things capricious, like posting a team-high plus/minus of +24 in Game 7 of the most important game of the season for the Cavaliers.
What the hell, George Hill? You’re good at basketball -- believe in yourself! Take more 3s! Drive-and-kick more! Be awesome all the time! Please?
Question No. 4: Will I ever admit I was completely wrong about Rodney Hood on this team?
Yes, right here. Hood, if you noticed, was given a DNP-CD by head coach Ty Lue in Game 7. Hood refused to come into the game for some garbage time a little while back, and Rodney Hood will probably not be a Cleveland Cavalier next season.
It’s amazing. Hood can ostensibly shoot 3s, he has the length and frame of a good defender, and he should be a valuable rotation guy on the Cavs this postseason -- but he’s not. He’s not even playing, he’s gone 3-of-19 from deep this postseason, and he’s a restricted free agent this summer. Everything may be coming up Milhouse, but nothing is coming up Rodney Hood.
Question No. 5: Everyone should be cheering for the Cavs in the Finals, right?
This is tough. So, one of the things I love most about the NBA is the best team almost -- ALMOST -- always wins in the end. There are no Nick Foles Just Did What moments. There are no Vegas Golden Knights-like stories. If you’re a fan of the best team in the NBA, you’re rewarded. If you like parity, this is not the sport for you, and I appreciate that. There is something nice about rewarding those who excelled at their job.
Golden State Warriors general manager Bob Meyers has to put together the best roster in the NBA, he signed the second-best player in the NBA after assembling NBA’s best regular season team in history, and it feels right to reward him for being really good at his job. Rarely in life is the most deserving also the most successful. In the NBA, that’s how it goes. Rewarding good players and good general managers and good coaches for being, you know, good, is, well, good.
But I’ll be rooting for the Cavs. Everybody loves an underdog, and, somehow, yet again, the best player in the world is on a team that will be heavily favored against in the NBA Finals. Whether it’s the Houston Rockets or the Warriors, nobody will be predicting LeBron James hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy with Jordan Clarkson and Jeff Green at his side. No, I expect a lot of “4-0” or “4-1” predictions from very qualified and smart people.
I want to see what would happen if the Warriors fell to this Cavs team, what the team would do this summer, what LeBron would be faced with -- would James really leave the Cavs after winning the title? Would he? -- and so many other things. Chaos may be a ladder, but it’s also, at its core, interesting. The Warriors winning again isn’t interesting, but it’s right. A basketball team with potentially four HOFers in their prime should always win the title, but that doesn’t mean I have to root for it.