May 8, 2016; Atlanta, GA, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James (23) hugs guard Kyrie Irving (2) after defeating the Atlanta Hawks 100-99 in game four of the second round of the NBA Playoffs at Philips Arena. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
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The Cleveland Cavaliers’ Big Three proved in the NBA Finals that they can step up on the biggest of stages, which should quiet doubters entering year three
The Cleveland Cavaliers officially begin their quest to repeat as NBA champions on October 25th against the New York Knicks.
That’s two weeks from now, but through training camp and preseason it’s mainly about acclimating the new players, getting in shape, going over sets and making sure everyone is at their best once the ring ceremony ends and their championship banner is officially hanging from the rafters.
A championship banner from an epic and classic Game 7 that was the culmination of everything LeBron James, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving couldn’t do. Traits that the aforementioned troika were constantly criticized for in the past but showed they could excel are their “deficiencies” when the game mattered most.
They saved their best for last, but no one has really talked about their best. All that’s been talked about is what three did that were already known for: James with chasedown blocks, Irving with clutch shots and Love with big-time rebounding.
We look at Cleveland’s Big Three’s ability to step up big when it matters most.
Jun 16, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James (23) shoots the ball against Golden State Warriors center Festus Ezeli (31) during the third quarter in game six of the NBA Finals at Quicken Loans Arena. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
The knock on LeBron James his entire career has been his inconsistent jump shot, and that’s fair to say. But when you’re entering your 14th year in the league as an all-time great, then you are who you are.
With James, in the playoffs he finds a way to make the big shots even though he could be struggling throughout an entire game. His resume prior to Game 7 against Golden State speaks for itself. Game 2 against Orlando in 2009 or Game 7 against San Antonio in 2013. His jumper comes through when needed.
His shot came through for “The Land” in Game 7 even though no one has talked about it. With 5:24 left in the 4th quarter, he drew a foul on then Warrior Festus Ezeli. James would go on to hit all three free throws.
Less than a minute later, it was James against Ezeli one-on-one way behind the arc. With a few dribbles, James took a step-back three over him with 4:53 left and gave the team a two-point lead and set Irving up for the historic game-winner.
James’ last six points and huge three-pointer shouldn’t have happened but it did. For the postseason he shot 66.1 percent from the free throw line and 34 percent from the three-point line. Both very low averages.
Somehow, despite his limitations as a consistent shooter, James has the confidence to attempt back-to-back three-pointers.
Kyrie Irving has this reputation of being a score first, pass second type of talent. That stats show otherwise, though. According to NBA.com/stats, he averaged over 51.2 passes made per game which was good enough for 32nd in the league; over James, who was 33rd at 50.3.
In Game 7 against GSW, the biggest pass of his career was to James. As Irving was driving to the hoop with under 15 seconds left, he dished the ball behind him as James went up for the dunk over Draymond Green. Now, yes, James went 1-for-2 at the free-throw line, but Irving passing said more about him.
His pass showed his awareness because going up he could’ve taken a horrendous shot with him racing towards the rim with Klay Thompson at his hip. Irving read his surroundings and dished an overhead pass to James. Maybe a few years ago Irving goes up for the shot and refuses to utilize his teammates in the clutch. Maybe. This time around for sure his maturity as a player was seen.
Ever since Kevin Love entered the league in 2008, it was known he would be a defensive liability. He wasn’t extremely tall, athletic or a bruiser on the defensive end of the court. If he couldn’t defend the post all extremely well, then he has no business on the perimeter guarding elusive guards or forwards. It would easily have become a mismatch and a simple drive for the offensive player to get by Love.
Well, you’d think it would be easy for opponents to get by Love on the perimeter. Then you realize in Game 7, a two-time MVP, scoring champion and a magician with the ball in Stephen Curry couldn’t break Love on two instances.
Immediately after Irving hit the biggest shot of his career, the Warriors went the no-timeout route. Curry brings the ball up the court to against Irving one-on-one until a Draymond Green screen switches Love on to an island. From then on Curry attempts to get to the rim on Love and can’t.
He then tries creating space and can’t. Love’s defensive stance and quickness prevents Curry from accomplishing anything, forcing Curry to pass to Green.
Green would then pass back to Curry creating a Curry vs Love sequel in a matter of seconds. Curry fakes a shot a few times getting Love in the air but not enough for him to lose sight of him thus forcing Curry into an off balanced shot.
It was in that moment, the biggest defensive play of Love’s career, where he came through the most for the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Feb 3, 2016; Charlotte, NC, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James (23) gets a high five from his teammates guard Kyrie Irving (2) and forward Kevin Love (0) after scoring during the second half of the game against the Charlotte Hornets at Time Warner Cable Arena. Hornets win 106-97. Mandatory Credit: Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY Sports
Was everything the trio pulled of in Game 7 an anomaly? Probably not.
Will their unseen doings be on display this upcoming season? Most likely.
It was the city of Cleveland guiding the three to accomplishment tasks they were told they were incapable of doing. It’s a Cleveland thing: no one expected them to win a championship just how no one expected the Cavs big-three to make their weaknesses the death of the Warriors.