LeBron James was on another planet in his first round matchup with the Indiana Pacers, leading the team to a series victory seemingly by himself.
The first-round matchup between the Indiana Pacers and Cleveland Cavaliers is finally in the books, the last of the first-round series to resolve itself. The Cavaliers came out on top behind the mega efforts of LeBron James. He finished the pivotal Game 7 with 45 points, nine rebounds, seven assists, and four steals in 43 minutes.
Game after game, James has needed to post Herculean numbers in order to even make the games competitive.
Even though it was only against a first-round opponent, James has left his signature all over yet another postseason. Through seven grueling games against the Pacers, the 15-year veteran averaged a monster line of 34.4 points, 10.1 rebounds, 7.7 assists, 1.4 steals, and one block while somehow playing 41.2 minutes per game. He also shot 55.3 percent overall and 35.5 percent from downtown.
James is not used to such adversity in the first round. He has managed to win 12 straight first-round series, dating to his first in 2005-06. After Sunday, he has now won the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs 13 straight times, a testament to his endless endurance and dominance of the league.
For James and this brutal fight with the Pacers, the blows just wouldn’t stop coming. From Bojan Bogdanovic to Thaddeus Young to Lance Stephenson to even Trevor Booker, Indiana threw everything at James. Instead of giving him a bit of room to play conservative defense, they would make it a point to lean into James and give him contact whenever possible.
In the post or on the perimeter, the Pacers would not allow him to get anything easy. Yet, 33-year-old LeBron James is in a class of his own, and any defense eventually falters against a player of his caliber.
James had three total halves featuring 20 or more points. He had three 40-point games (46 in Game 2, 44 in Game 5 and 45 in Game 7), He pulled down double-digit rebounds in five games. He dished out seven-plus in six games, including one game with 12.
LeBron shot 78 percent in the paint, which is simply staggering. Even more impressive is that LeBron set a playoff career high in field goals that were unassisted, at 75.9 percent, per NBA.com. This shows how much of the offense was forced through LeBron playing isolation basketball since no one else was able to generate or finish plays well.
For comparison, in the postseason when Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love were both injured, LeBron was unassisted on 74.4 percent of his field goals. This was when Timofey Mozgov and Matthew Dellavedova were his two best sidekicks and he brought the Golden State Warriors to six games in the NBA Finals.
He also put down the shot of the series, and for LeBron and the Cavs, the play of the season.
— Bruh Report (@BruhReport) April 26, 2018
This shot was phenomenal. A buzzer-beating fading three for the win over a tough defender in Thaddeus Young. In a Game 5 that would have gone to overtime, LeBron James took it upon himself to rewrite his postseason destiny, and change the course of a season that could have ended in complete shambles.
Victor Oladipo did cement his star status this series. He was magnificent in four of the seven games. He was also the focal point of the Cavaliers defense, which trapped him with double teams the second he got a pick. For the fifth-year guard, this series was a strong success and litmus test for his bright future. But back to LeBron.
LeBron, narrative or not, had so little help this series. His fellow All-Star Kevin Love was largely underwhelming, even with the re-injured left hand to take into consideration. He was the only other scorer in double digits, at 11.4 points per game on 33.3 percent shooting. George Hill, JR Smith, and Kyle Korver scored 9.3, 8.6, and 8.3 points per game, respectively. Hill was second in assists per game, at 2.0, and he only played in four games.
Really, there was almost no help for LeBron on offense.
Hill, Korver, Smith, and Love provided some floor spacing. Rodney Hood was useless. Jordan Clarkson is unplayable. Larry Nance Jr. did well as a rim runner, but his defense left lots to be desired. Jose Calderon was solid as a shooter, but he’s 36 and barely an NBA player on defense. Jeff Green was a surprise. He offered some shooting, some defense, some athleticism, and some speed.
However, having Korver as the second-best contributor on your team through a seven-game series does not bode well for future rounds.
On defense, there was limited perimeter defense, which allowed Oladipo and Darren Collison to attack the rim almost any time they wanted. Tristan Thompson offered wonderful rim protection in Game 7, but before then, he only played six minutes in the series. Outside of Thompson, Love and Nance Jr. were completely ineffective guarding the paint.
Through and through, it all came down to LeBron every game. He was a force in the post, proving to be too strong for Bojan Bogdanovic and Lance Stephenson and too quick for Thaddeus Young. He was the primary distributor. He was the only player able to initiate anything on offense, which is why he was playing until the tank was empty. It also explains how the Pacers set an NBA History record for point differential in a seven-game series loss. The Pacers outscored the Cavaliers by 40 through the seven games but lost the round.
While it was just a first round series against the fifth seed, the fact that LeBron overcame… the Pacers… alone does showcase his ability to take over an entire series. LeBron James remains the best in the business and capable of taking over with a roster in shambles.
But the fight continues, when the Cavaliers take on the first seed Toronto Raptors on Tuesday night on TNT. They have had much success against the Raptors previously, but the Cavs have been an eyesore. This will prove a big challenge.