“Go, bid the soldiers shoot.”
There’s a lot going on in this series.
We’ve marveled at the shooting of Steph Curry and the tenacity of Matthew Dellavedova. We’ve seen a young star ascend in Tristan Thompson and an old star shine in Andre Iguodala. We’ve second-guessed strategies, criticized under-performing players, jumped to conclusions, and made plenty of great memes. We’ve seen one of the worst teams in Finals history hang tough with one of the best teams of the last 15 years. We have three legitimate MVP candidates.
And, oh yeah, we have LeBron James. Doing LeBron James things.
And, entering a Game 6 in Cleveland with the Warriors one game away from a championship, the greatest basketball player in the world – playing against such a strong team with such a ragtag band of teammates, in front of his hometown fans who have hated and adored him – is the only character that really matters.
LeBron stands alone in the Q with his team on the brink. He has already given so much, and he is prepared to answer the call and give his last (so to speak).
But, in a Shakespearean turn of fortune, he may be doomed no matter what he does. As we have seen, LeBron is not getting the type of help he needs to win this series. He has astounded the basketball world with his play and yet his team trails 3-2. He might score 50 points tonight and still lose.
It is all on LeBron’s shoulders. And it is all out of LeBron’s hands.
The Cavaliers cannot win unless LeBron has another Herculean performance. And they might still lose, even if he has his mightiest performance yet. Tragically, all of the mystique surrounding the greats in basketball and “finding a way to win” won’t save LeBron. Fate has been unkind to him. His quest to bring a championship to Cleveland hangs in the air with the errant alley-oops of Matthew Dellavedova and the frozen jumpshots of J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert. And, of course, the much more accurate jumpshots of Stephen Curry. Whether or not Timofey Mozgov or Shawn Marion play makes little difference now.
I do not doubt LeBron James. He came out of the TD Garden alive in 2012 down 3-2. He limped out of Game 6 versus the Spurs the following year with a big help from Ray Allen. He will give everything he has to defend his homecourt and give the Cavaliers a chance in Game 7 back in Oakland. He seems determined to banzai charge the Warriors and live or die with the result.
And, should LeBron find a way to win these next two games, it will be the greatest individual performance we have ever seen on the basketball court. All doubts about him will vanish. Every mistake will be forgotten. The haters will look even more foolish. And he will ascend as basketball’s greatest hero. Ever.
But when the final buzzer sounds tonight, I expect to see LeBron kneeling on the court, totally spent, thinking about how he’s going to receive the Bill Russell trophy amidst the Warriors’ celebration. And, if not tonight, then in Game 7, that much closer to the goal but still just as far from finally reaching it.
How will Cleveland receive their tragic hero?
Will they bear him up on his shield, or expect him to fall on his sword?
Will he have failed them again, or will he be celebrated for doing more than could have ever been asked with his deadliest lieutenants gone?
I think I know how “we” will receive him. But what about the people who so desperately want to see him win?
How will they see the man who left and then came back when he takes his team so far yet fails to win again?
There will be next year. Kevin will be healthy and will surely re-up if they want him. Kyrie will be “healthy” again. The salary cap will be up and the Cavs can look to build an even stronger team to glide through the Eastern Conference again. But LeBron will be a year older and will have played that many more grueling minutes. He might grow tired of Kevin Love’s defense or David Blatt’s plays. He might take some nights off, weary from a career full of bearing the weight of the basketball world. And maybe he will get right back to this place this time next year with nothing left to give. Maybe his body will finally break down. Maybe Kevin and Kyrie will be injured again.
So, this week, there isn’t next year. It’s here and now. The Cavs, somehow, once led this series 2-1 after dominating the first three games. They were leading by one midway through the fourth quarter of the last game. They have been that close to doing what looked nearly impossible.
LeBron still has a say in this story.
But this story might not be LeBron’s to write.
But if this is to be his end, then he will make such an end so as to be remembered.
Will that be enough?
ἢ τὰν ἢ ἐπὶ τᾶς
Soli Deo Gloria