LeBron James has rescued the Cavaliers from a 3-1 deficit in the NBA Finals and just pulled them out of a 2-0 hole against Boston.
Neither such comeback had ever been accomplished, so James has stared down tough situations before.
Winning another championship now, leading this group of Cavaliers past a much mightier Golden State team, might even be a bigger challenge. Perhaps it’s simply too much to ask.
Except for the guy being asked.
James is playing at such an extraordinary level that anything is possible, including what would go down as one of the biggest upsets in NBA history.
“No matter what the story line is going to be, no matter if we’re picked to win or not, let’s just go out and play ball,” James said. “We’re going to have a great gameplan. We’re going to try to get better throughout the series, and we’ll see what happens.”
The Warriors are better, and few outside James’ native Ohio would bother to argue. Golden State is deeper, quicker, more potent offensively and much more reliable defensively. The Cavaliers only got one game off them in last year’s finals, and that Cleveland team, with Kyrie Irving, was better than this year’s version.
But none of their weaknesses have stopped the Cavaliers from pulling out two Game 7s in this postseason, or from stomping on a 59-win Toronto team in four straight games. They find a way to play well enough to keep the games in striking distance so James can will the Cavs across the finish line, and that will be the strategy again starting Thursday at Oracle Arena.
As Stephen Curry noted, the Cavaliers are more than just James. Tristan Thompson rarely showed up anywhere but the gossip pages for much of the season, but has regained his role as a rugged rebounder and defender in the postseason. If All-Star Kevin Love is cleared from his concussion in time to play, Cleveland can surround James with dangerous perimeter shooters such as himself, Kyle Korver, George Hill and JR Smith, forcing the Warriors to play James 1-on-1 — and possibly without one of their top defenders in Andre Iguodala if he can’t return from his leg injury.
Golden State won two of the three finals meetings and is heavily favored to take this one. But the one Cleveland got is perhaps King James’ crowning achievement, when the Cavaliers overcame that 3-1 deficit to beat the 73-win Warriors in Oakland in Game 7.
Another title now wouldn’t be far behind. It might require four games of around 34 points, nine rebounds and nine assists — about what James is averaging in 18 games this postseason. It’s hard to expect that level of anyone, but that’s what’s demanded of No. 23 in Cleveland.
James can do it.
Believe it or not, so can the Cavaliers.
The pick: Cavaliers in seven.
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Brian Mahoney is a national basketball writer for The Associated Press. Write to him at bmahoneyap.org