Win or Lose in Game 7, LeBron James Is This Year's NBA Finals MVP
LeBron James is -- without a doubt -- one of the greatest basketball players of all time.
If your best argument against this fact is that he has a 2-4 record in the NBA Finals or that you think the NBA is rigged (yo, Ayesha), then you're squandering the chance to enjoy the career of a generational talent and one of the best players the NBA has ever seen. If that's where your head is at, then honestly, the rest of us should feel sorry for you.
What LeBron is doing in these Finals, win or lose, is enough to prove he belongs in that upper echelon of all-time NBA greats. He just followed up one of the best Finals performances of all time with another one that was just as good, or maybe even better.
41 points (for the second consecutive game) on 16-for-27 from the field and 3-for-6 from long range, 8 rebounds, 11 assists, 4 steals, 3 blocks, and 1 measly turnover. According to Basketball-Reference.com, that's the first time that those counting stats have been accomplished as a baseline in the playoffs -- let alone Finals -- since the 1983-84 season, when game logs were expanded to include all those numbers.
He got it done by absolutely owning the restricted area, shooting 10-for-15 in that zone (66.7%), while keeping the Warriors honest with his jump shot:
Those bloated restricted area numbers include four dunks, none more beautiful nor impactful than this (sort of) dagger in the third quarter:
According to ESPN Stats & Info, James also became the fifth player ever to have back-to-back 40-point games in NBA Finals history, joining Jerry West (1965 and 1969), Rick Barry (1967), Michael Jordan (1993), and Shaquille O'Neal (2000).
One of the laziest commentaries to follow LeBron around during his career has been regarding his supposed lack of a "clutch" gene. The main argument almost certainly has to do with his Finals record, but good luck explaining away this happening in a Finals elimination game if you're still left in that camp:
From 5:38 of the 3rd to 2:59 of the 4th, LeBron James scored or assisted on 35 of the Cavaliers 36 points
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) June 17, 2016
For that matter, he's been doing this kind of thing his whole career. You might even be able to make an argument that he's been one of the best clutch performers in NBA history:
#Cavs LeBron James is the NBA's all-time leading scorer when facing elimination.
Can he do it again in Game 7? pic.twitter.com/ohlSTMymbX
— Sportsnet Stats (@SNstats) June 17, 2016
At the very least, LeBron's clutch play and monster performances have all but cemented his Finals MVP award for this year, win or lose.
As far as we're concerned, LeBron should have been the Finals MVP in 2014 when his Heat lost to the Spurs and was a worthy candidate last year when his Cavs lost to these same Warriors. But even if Cleveland loses Game 7 Sunday, it will be harder than ever not to admit that James was the Finals MVP, even if he's on the losing team. We certainly won't be alone on that soapbox this time if he doesn't get it.
Through six games, LeBron is averaging 30.2 points, 11.3 rebounds, 8.5 assists, 2.7 steals, and 2.2 blocks per contest, all while shooting 51.4% from the field and 40.0% from three-point range. In terms of totals, he's outright leading or tied for the lead in each and every one of those five counting stats for both teams:
LeBron James leads everyone in everything ... literally pic.twitter.com/gvhXehdaDV
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) June 17, 2016
His Player Efficiency Rating (PER) for the Finals is a whopping 35.0. The next closest competitor in the series is his teammate, Kyrie Irving, at 26.7, closing in at almost 10 points lower than James. The next closest Warrior is Leandro Barbosa at 25.6, with regular season MVP Stephen Curry's 20.1 being nearly 15 points lower than James' 35.0.
If leading the entire Finals in every single important counting stat while blowing away every other player in the series in the advanced metrics isn't enough to make James either a unanimous Finals MVP if Cleveland wins or the second person ever to win it from a losing team (Jerry West, 1969 being the first) if Golden State is victorious, than the award will lose all meaning.
The definition of MVP is always up for debate, but there's no real argument to make against LeBron James being the MVP of this series. Period.
Of course, that particular piece of hardware isn't even really the goal at this point. One of the most intriguing championships ever will be on the line in Sunday's winner-take-all Game 7, with the victor taking home the much more coveted Larry O'Brien Championship Trophy.
If Golden State wins, they cement their place as one of the best teams ever, adding a second consecutive championship on the end of a record-breaking 73-9 season.
If Cleveland wins? It would mark the first professional sports championship in Cleveland in 52 years (the longest active drought), the first ever comeback from a 3-1 series deficit in Finals history, and the merciful end to debates about LeBron's greatness and his rightful place in the pantheon among the greatest to ever play the game. No losing Finals record would ever overshadow coming back from 3-1 down to beat one of the best teams of all time, on their floor, while putting up the numbers that LeBron has.
Regardless of the outcome, we're all winners as basketball fans for getting a Game 7 with so much intrigue and so much on the line for both teams.
Is it Sunday yet?