He had at least 25 points in every game. For the series, he averaged 38 points, 8 rebounds, and 8 assists per game. He hit a game-winning shot in Game Two and had 17 fourth-quarter points while contributing to every field goal his team scored in the fourth quarter in Game Five.
Every game, he did things that made you scratch your head and wonder if he was human.
Despite it all, LeBron left me wanting more. Somehow, he has raised the bar to such an absurd level that I can’t say he did enough despite having what was one of the two single best postseason series’ I can remember (the other being Dwyane Wade’s unforgettable 2006 Finals).
Last night, in a must-win game, LeBron disappeared almost entirely after the first quarter. He followed up a 13-point first quarter with a second-quarter donut, and the Magic stretched their lead to 18 by halftime. The Cavs rarely threatened after halftime, and I don’t think they ever cut the deficit to single digits after halftime.
Every time they got close to getting within ten points, though, it was somebody other than LeBron taking the big shots. There was Anderson Varejao with a turnaround fadeaway from just outside the lane, Delonte West with a number of difficult drives to the hoop, Wally Szczerbiack from the corner and Mo Williams from three.
In a game the Cavs had to win, I expected LeBron to do something unbelievable. I wanted, hoped, and believed he would throw up a game for the ages. I thought he would force Mike Brown to let him guard Rashard Lewis or Hedo Turkoglu and shut them down.
I thought he would demand the ball and make plays for himself and open the court for the rest of his teammates. I thought he would carry his team as far as he could take them, and I thought that if he was going to go down, he was going down swinging.
Instead, he vanished for the final three quarters. When his out-talented, out-coached team needed him to be “The Chosen One,” LeBron was nowhere to be found. He went down without a fight; he went down with barely a whimper.
Maybe he was tired. After five games of completely dominating the series and being forced by his underachieving teammates to do everything for his team, maybe he just ran out of gas.
Yet, that isn’t supposed to happen to LeBron James. This season, he set himself apart from everybody during the regular season, even Kobe Bryant. He was undoubtedly the league’s best player, an unstoppable force who was bigger, stronger and faster than anyone in the league and had a knack of rising to the occasion in big moments.
You can’t compare him to basketball players anymore. No way, he’s surpassed that. His athleticism is beyond anything the NBA has ever seen, and maybe anything sports has ever seen. He has been blessed with the unique package of Carl Lewis’ speed, Popeye’s strength and Reggie Bush’s quickness.
Which is why I can’t help but hope for more, why I can’t be impressed by 25 points, 7 rebounds, and 7 assists in an elimination game. When you come to expect spectacular, simply great doesn’t cut it.
In a weird way, while the Cavaliers lost this series, it validated and made everything that James accomplished this year even more impressive. It became more evident than ever that James was the driving force behind all his team’s success this year. While he was unstoppable, nobody else on his team could consistently make plays.
When the defensive pressure was ratcheted up to playoff level, LeBron’s teammates couldn’t measure up.
Watching LeBron’s teammates fail to make any type of plays whatsoever, I couldn’t help but watch in awe as LeBron almost single-handedly kept the Cavaliers competitive in the series. It was blatantly clear that LeBron and LeBron alone was the reason the Cavaliers had the best record in the NBA this year.
The rest of his team was clearly outclassed by the long, skilled Magic. LeBron carried the Cavs through 82 regular-season games, an eight-game sweep through the first two playoff rounds, and five competitive games against Orlando.
Which is why I expected him to carry them at least one more time. I thought LeBron was ready to fully assume the crown as the NBA’s best player.
I thought he would take the next step towards doing something unspeakable, surpassing Michael Jeffrey Jordan as the NBA’s greatest player of all-time. Instead, he left us wanting more. He left us wondering whether he’d ever be able to lift his team to a championship.
For all LeBron James’s individual brilliance, for all he does to make his teams better than they should be and raise his teammates play, there is still one number that defines him: zero, the number of rings he’s won.
Maybe next year, Lebron.
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