I cannot stand LeBron James, his dominance, his ego, his persona, or really anything about him. I’m a hater through and through, and I’d much more enjoy writing a Buzzfeed post on the different things LeBron does that drive me crazy. But after what was another memorable, historical, and dominant performance in the Cavs record-setting comeback against the Indiana Pacers last night, the man deserves his due.
The Pacers deserve credit for choking harder than a football team from Atlanta, but LeBron showed what has made him the most dominant player of the last 10-15 years (christ he’s been in the league a while) and what separates him from pretty much anyone other than a locked in Russell Westbrook right now. No one has his ability to get whatever he wants, whenever he wants like LeBron and when he is dead set on getting what he wants, it’s been seven years since anyone in the East was able to do anything about it.
Throughout those seven years, the East has been mostly terrible and you could make the argument once again this year that the West has 4-6 teams that are better than every team in the East without a river that’s caught fire. However, there have been numerous teams put together with the sole purpose of knocking Bron off his perch and they’ve all ended up like**************GAME OF THRONES SPOILERS************** Stannis Baratheon’s army outside Winterfell. Broken, defeated, and tapped out with a wimper.
The first victim to Bron being Bron was the Detroit Pistons. The 2004 NBA Champions, the Pistons core of Rasheed Wallace, Rip Hamilton, Chauncey Billups, and Tayshaun Prince were the team to beat in the mid 2000’s. One could argue that James’ first “ARRIVED” moment was when he dropped a gazillion points in the 4th quarter to make a furious comeback before beating Detroit in overtime in 2007 – the Cavs would lose to San Antonio in the Finals rather forgettably. The Pistons returned back in 2008 to reach the Eastern Conference finals where they’d be dispatched by the Big 3 of the Boston Celtics in what would be their last stand. In November 2008, the Pistons traded Billups for Allen Iverson to foster Rodney Stuckey’s growth and yeah, that was a really fucking stupid idea. DEEEE-TROIT BAH-SKET-BALLLL was dead.
Speaking of those Celtics, this is probably one of the more contentious spots on this narrative because killing the C’s required LeBron to permanently fray his legacy and legally change his name to LeBenedict Pitbull James-Arnold. The 2007-2008 NBA Champions, the Celtics were comprised of Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett, a youthful Rajon Rondo, and Ivan Ooze crossed with a ninja turtle at center. The Celtics looked prime for a back-to-back run before a knee injury to Garnett led the way for Orlando to sneak in in 2009; however, the Celtics again returned to the finals in 2010. That was the end of their run as LeBron had grown up… and by grown up, I mean ran to Dwyane Wade’s house and asked him to call the Raptor strike force from Jurassic World… that reference sucked, I’m sorry. It should be noted that the 2010 Celtics team was the last time the East was represented by a James-less roster. The Heat’s new Big 3 beat Boston in 5 games in 2011 and 7 in 2012. Boston was so beaten down by the 2012 defeat (after falling behind 3-2, Bron crushed them in games 6 and 7), they lost in the first round to the kazoo-playing dumpster fire that is the New York Knicks in 2013. After 2013, Doc Rivers, KG, and Pierce were all traded and the Celtics started over.
Mixed in there was a brief rivalry with Dwight Howard and the Orlando Magic. Of all the teams that fell off during this time period, the Magic’s crumbling had less to do with James and more to do with The Tragic doing Tragic things. In 2009, the Magic beat the Cavs in 6 games with relative ease, especially in the game 6 annihilation where LeBron infamously stormed off the court without shaking hands with Dwight, his friend and olympic teammate. Mind you, this was before everyone realized Dwight was a cancerous prick with 30 kids with 30 different women (rough guesstimate). Orlando traded for Vince Carter prior to the 2010 season, went on a historic run to end the year and start the post-season, but fell to the Celtics in 6 games in the conference finals. For whatever reason, Otis Smith decided to blow that team up and trade everyone for the corpse of the corpse of Hedo Turkoglu’s, a disarmed Gilbert Arenas, and apparently Jason Richardson too but I can’t tell you a single positive thing he did here. Dwight would eventually be traded for a bunch of mediocre players who would be signed to max contracts and the team continues to be the worst organization in sports to this day.
The team that looked most primed to beat LeBron during this run was the Chicago Bulls at the turn of the decade. In 2010 the Bulls, led by youngsters Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah played a spirited, if not highly competitive first round series against the Cavs in the first round. In 2011 things were supposed to be different. Rose had won MVP, Noah had broken out as well. After a sleepy first round against the Indiana Pacers – sign of things to come – the Bulls dispatched the Atlanta Hawks and ISO-Joe in round two before the matchup against the Heat (remember, Bron tucked and ran and joined another top 3 and top 10 player in Miami) in the conference finals. Rose had stolen the MVP from LeBron and boy did Bron make an example out of him. The Bulls crushed the Heat in game 1 by 21 points but lost the next four games and being sent golfing early. The biggest theme of the series that Rose was god awful when LeBron would switch onto him. Carlos Boozer disappeared during a playoff series again, lining up with the rest of his career nicely. In 2012, the Bulls wrapped up the 1-seed again before Rose blew his knee out in a blowout performance against the 76ers and Andre Iguodala. The Sixers wound up winning the series, Rose never got over the knee injuries and another threat was dispatched…. I actually forgot that the Cavs played the Bulls in a fairly competitive 2015 series. Here’s a recap
In 2012, the Heat ran up against a more mature Pacers team that looked ready to compete for years to come. Paul George had emerged as the next big thing on the wing and Roy Hibbert had seemingly grown a pair. Facing an Orlando Magic team lead by Glen “Big Baby” Davis, the Pacers fell behind 0-1 because of an improbably Jason Richardson last second shot. They rattled off 4-straight to advance to play the Heat where they actually took a 2-1 series lead. *Sigh*, that lead did not last long and the Heat won the series in 6. The Pacers were more competitive than people expected though and with a maturing George, a long-term threat seemingly had emerged. In 2013, the Pacers took the Heat to 7 games in the Eastern finals in a series that they actually could have won. In game 1, the Pacers subbed out Roy Hibbert – when he was still good – to put in some shitty combo forward to “guard the 3 better” on a last possession. Only up 1, this move didn’t make sense now or then – the fucking Spurs of all teams did the same exact thing in the finals and again the Heat made them pay gobbling up an extra rebound leading to overtime. James drove passed Paul George and scored a lay-in over this forgettable mediocre combo forward to steal it. The 2014 Pacers backed their way into the 1-seed, slumped through the playoffs, surprisingly took game 1 from the Heat before wimpering their way to a 6-game defeat. Paul George broke his leg prior to the 2015 season leading to a meh-full series of events all building up to last night’s collapse and dagger through the heart.
Throughout this, there’s been minor annoyances provided by the Knicks, Nets, Hawks, and Raptors but none really posed any true threat to whichever team Bron was playing for.
LeBron has surrounded himself with some combination of Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Love for ever year of this run. Yes, it’s easier to win when you have two all-stars on your flanks at all times, but that doesn’t really diminish how crazy this run has been. We haven’t seen anything like this since Jordan, though there are no gambling debts to slow down the run this time.
It’s looking like the Cavs will be facing the Bucks and Giannis Atentokounmpo in the next round. Many are saying the 22-year-old Greek Freak is the next in line to sit on the throne, and I’d agree that’s a pretty safe bet. He’s got Durant’s skills with LeBron’s vision and is a jumpshot away from being unguardable. It’s not a matchup I expected we’d be lucky enough to get but knocking on wood, it does seem that way. After the Bucks, the Cavs are probably looking down the barrel at either the Wizards, who have the biggest gap between their ceiling and floor of any “contender” or the surging Bulls who have taken a 2-0 lead on the East’s top seed, Boston. The Bulls offer another very good wing in Jimmy Butler, Bron’s old nemesis Rajon Rondo, and his best friend, Dwyane Wade. The stories would write themselves. While it’s fun to hypothesize about the ways these matchups could turn against the Cavs, it’s rather unlikely and anyone who is thinking otherwise at this point hasn’t been paying attention. LeBron is still the most dominant one-on-one player in the game and has an extra gear that no one besides Westbrook is capable of reaching. As Trill Withers puts it: