LeBron James returned to the Cavaliers two summers ago to bring a title to Cleveland, and on Sunday night in Game 7 of the NBA Finals at ORACLE Arena, he made good on his word.
James had 27 points, 11 rebounds, 11 assists, three blocks and two steals in the 93-89 win, leading Cleveland to its first sports championship since 1964.
The city’s appreciation for James, without question, is at its highest level ever.
“Put it this way: If anybody’s upset with LeBron now, then they have something wrong with them,” Cavs TV analyst Austin Carr said on CBS Sports Radio’s Tiki and Tierney. “He came back, he delivered. It took him two years to do it. It’s just amazing. The parade is going to be Wednesday, and there’s no telling what’s going to happen. Last night, they had to shut down all these streets coming into downtown. There were just (so) many people.”
Once Cleveland fell behind 3-1 in the Finals, the vast majority of people assumed the series was over. James, however, did not. Playing three consecutive must-win games, James averaged 36.3 points, 11.7 rebounds, 9.7 assists, 3.0 steals and 3.0 blocks and was named Finals MVP.
His block on Andre Iguodala – James raced to the basket and pinned a lay-up attempt against the backboard in the final two minutes – will go down as one of the greatest defensive plays in Finals history.
“That is what he thrives on, he lives in,” Carr said. “He was just happy he was able to deliver – because that really was the game right there. He did it to Curry several times, but that was the game right there. By stopping that play, and then he came down and got a basket, that really changed the whole complexion of the situation. I’ll tell you: I’ve been around a lot of players, I’ve played against a lot of players, but as far as the cerebral understanding of the game and also understanding his teammates and what they can do and can’t do, LeBron is one of the best.”
James, to be sure, had help. Kyrie Irving averaged 27.1 points in the series and hit the game-winning three-pointer in the final minute of Game 7. Kevin Love finally came alive Sunday, grabbing a team-high 14 rebounds. J.R. Smith chipped in with 12 points, including two three-pointers that helped Cleveland overcome a seven-point halftime deficit.
But Tyronn Lue, may have made the biggest difference. In fact, Carr doesn’t think the Cavs would have won the title if Blatt were still the head coach.
“I would say no,” he said. “Blatt knows the Xs and Os of the game; his problem was dealing with players individually, and I think that’s where Lue excels. You could just see it. Players started getting behind Lue. They would almost rebel against Blatt. Once Lue took over and started putting his little touch on things, things just seemed to go – and when LeBron endorsed it, that was it. Everybody just bought in. Lue knows what he’s doing. He knows the Xs and Os, but he also knows personalities, people.
“I think it was a defining moment in the season when there was a timeout and LeBron was kind of a little bit too (vocal),” Carr continued. “Lue just told LeBron to shut up. When that happened, everything changed from that moment on. Even LeBron himself, it gave him respect (for Lue) and everything just changed.”