Four years ago, LeBron James described his return home to Cleveland as a long process. Today, that process is at a crossroads. On the line is James’ consecutive Finals streak. Perhaps, even his future with the Cavaliers. Whatever happens, LeBron James has fulfilled his end of the bargain in Cleveland.
In Game 6, James was at his devastating best, using his body as a wedge to split the seams of the Celtics’ defense, both with the dribble and as a screener; and his skill to space the floor and find teammates. He is, in essence, wearing Boston’s defense out like a rubber band that has lost its elasticity.
As league defenses have evolved to counter the complex routes and layered actions developed first by Gregg Popovich and the San Antonio Spurs, then perfected by Steve Kerr and the Golden State Warriors, LeBron James remains unsolvable.
There is a proliferation of lineups comprised entirely of multi-position defensive players across the league; almost by necessity. Leave one vulnerable defender on the court and teams have sophisticated ways of attacking it in a seven-game series.
Throughout the series, LeBron has sought out Terry Rozier, forcing Boston to tilt its defense towards him. Scram switches and shade neutralized it early, but James is the league’s greatest problem solver, evolving counters quicker than defenses can keep up.
Two-man ball screen actions on the wing with James as the screener and George Hill as the trigger have put the Celtics in a perilous position. Hedge and Hill has a lane to the baseline, switch and James pops to the elbow to receive the pass with Rozier on him in a position that’s almost impossible to send help without exposing an obvious pass for an assist.
And, in a call-back to his demoralizing (for Toronto) sweep of the Raptors, LeBron James once again proved two points isn’t always two points; hitting a number of pull-up jumpers with defenders draped all over him. Al Horford has been the defensive glue and backbone to an elite Celtics’ defense, and James has even attacked him; living up to that old prison adage of knocking out the toughest guy to send a message.
To get to an eighth consecutive Finals, James will have to push his Cavaliers past some truly awful home and away splits. Cleveland’s shooters, which work off James to create one of the best offenses we’ve seen, have suffered power outages away from Quicken Loans Arena. To do so, LeBron James will do whatever it takes because, throughout his career, he’s been all they’ve ever needed.