Sure. Yeah. Of course. The Cleveland Cavaliers, despite the best efforts of LeBron James in Game 2, are now down two games to the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals. A nation awaits with bated breath, not yearning for a world without The King, but the people seem ready to give up on his quest to reach the NBA Finals.
Resist that temptation. Don’t allow for that cruel, wicked and sometimes heartless eater-of-worlds to alter a reality that remains a fixture as Boston heads to Cleveland — LeBron James is the best player in this series.
Oh, yeah. You know, also all that jazz about being told — since the invention of seven-game playoff series — a series doesn’t really begin until a home team drops a game.
“It always seems impossible until it’s done.” – Nelson Mandela.
Thing is, we have seen teams come back from 0-2 in the NBA Playoffs. It isn’t unheard of for the lower-seeded team to drop two games on the road, recapture some magic when returning home, only to wind up triumphant in the end. This idea that the Cavaliers are done after two — admittedly, iffy — games is an operation best left for Numbskulls Incorporated to undertake.
However, you could look at the first two games to find reason to believe things won’t change. All this (handsome?) Internet Scribbler asks is that you remove baseline numbers like a team losing a couple of road games from the equation.
Look at how awful Cleveland’s defense has been. The complete inability to defend pick-and-rolls as well as a general lack of trying point to how, thanks to a good Boston defense, the Cavaliers are stuck with James playing the role of superhero as his teammates miss a barrage of shots beyond the arc.
This is, after all, who we believed Cleveland to be. A team ranking in the middle-of-the-pack defensively all season isn’t all of a sudden going to become the Dream Team of Stops. A squad comprised of aging, streaky players won’t randomly become heralded gunslingers.
Cleveland is flawed. From the team being forced to play the aged Kyle Korver tons of minutes to J.R. Smith no longer laying the pipe with as much ease as he once did, there’s no real reason to think who the Cavaliers are now will change moving forward.
Then again, we are talking about greatness resting within the comfy confines of a 6-foot-9 legend’s tummy. Part mythological beast, part all-time great with a sprinkle of potential GOAT, LeBron James is the great cure-all for a roster with more flaws than your 12th choice on Tinder.
This could be pure ignorance, especially with James coming off an injury scare in Game 2, but how does one bet on a legendary talent to fail if he isn’t already pot-committed in seeing such failure happen?
Doubts would circulate around Michael Jordan and his Chicago Bulls in the 1990s. Each and every year, teams in the Eastern Conference would magically trick fans into thinking they — the Knicks, Pacers, whoever else have you — had an actual shot in taking His Airness down.
They were wrong… often. Jordan, alongside his numerous Hall of Fame teammates, would regularly wash away the sins of fans by way of reaching in their collective chest, pulling out that fandom heart, and stomping on it one Reggie Miller shortcoming at a time.
Let’s be blunt about the elephant on the room: The Boston Celtics are a measurably better team than the Cleveland Cavaliers. Save for James, the consistency in which Boston’s players do well on the hardwood is a far better commodity to have than hurling inconsistent, yet cagey veterans like Korver and Smith on the floor.
And yet, the only rebuttal Cleveland has is the most important of the lot. The Cavaliers have LeBron James. The Celtics do not. Yeah. Yeah. Stevens has some stars in the making at his disposal, as well as the criminally (and forever) underrated Al Horford, but not a soul in a green and white uniform will ever be chasing ghosts like James has been for the last several years.
Hell, Scary Terry Rozier said it — albeit it indirectly — himself. Boston is playing with house money. Dating back to the Gordon Hayward injury, followed by Kyrie Irving going down, few expected the Celtics to be in position to reach the NBA Finals.
That’s a stark difference between these two teams. Boston is happy to be here, though it obviously wants to reach a higher level, while Cleveland has the highest stakes in this series between two vastly different rosters.
It’s not only the Cavaliers trying to reach yet another NBA Finals, but it could be the last anyone sees of James as a member of the franchise. While that is a conversation largely saved for when the season is over, it amplifies the importance of reaching the sport’s mountain top for the billionth year in a row.
Not to claim complacency will hit Boston, but we sure as heck know it shouldn’t with Cleveland. The latter of the two franchises is not as storied, has a championship window that appears to be on borrowed time, and there’s a natural sense of urgency resting somewhere in LeBron’s belly that can’t be conjured by Boston no matter what tricks Stevens has up his sleeve.
We can look at the data. How often a team down 0-2 comes back to win a series, especially this late in the playoffs. We can point to the absurdity that is the Celtics using guys who would otherwise be riding the bench to lead them to a tremendous human interest story.
We could do all of that. But we’d also be ignoring the context. That, because of James, the numbers are skewed and/or have little impact on the rest of this series since the ones that came before it failed to have a player like James featured so prominently.
Nature will tell us to write Cleveland off. To begin pondering what is next for the Cavs and where James will come home next season. It’s a trap. It’s like looking for a lady of the night only to be picked up by an undercover cop (not that I know how that would play out).
Point being, in the most roundabout way as humanly possible, if you’re willing to bury the Cleveland Cavaliers after two, admittedly, woeful games, you can — just don’t be surprised when greatness comes crashing down on you in the form of The King.
He’s really good. Like, all-time great good. Schemes, styles and overall roster construction doesn’t change that. In fact, I’m not willing to bet against all-time great good. Not yet at least. Are you?
We can, ugh, revisit this conversation if Cleveland loses Game 3, though.