One could make the case for Russell Westbrook and for sure, Tony Parker merits special consideration, but we would be remiss to not unequivocally anoint LeBron James as the Most Valuable Player of the NBA playoffs thus far.
Now in his ninth playoffs, James has long ago spoiled us with his outstanding talent. We watch him, mostly in awe, but often with the expectation of greatness, and now, during one of his finest runs, we overlook him, almost entirely.
With his Miami HEAT mostly running on fumes and with a cast that is probably not as good, experienced or polished as last year’s, James’ HEAT arrived at the Eastern Conference Finals with an 8-1 record. They made short work of the Brooklyn Nets in a series where James average 30 points, 6.4 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 1.2 steals while shooting 57 percent from the field and a whopping 82 percent from the free-throw line.
In Game 4 of that series, on the road in Brooklyn, James put on a one-man show by scoring 49 points on just 24 shots from the field. In Game 5, he came up with two critical stops on Joe Johnson that sealed the game and eliminated the Nets from the playoffs. There, he was the major catalyst in the HEAT erasing an eight-point deficit and holding the Nets to just three points in the final five minutes of the game.
In short, when the going has gotten tough, the already tough James has gotten tougher.
That he has done so and led his team throughout Dwyane Wade’s decline is something that is worth supreme reverence. While Wade is averaging more points this postseason than last (17.9 to 15.9), his minutes, rebounds, assists and steals are all down as he is clearly pitch-counting himself in hopes of being fully rested and prepared for the Indiana Pacers in the Eastern Conference Finals.
As someone who has watched James quite closely and has personally observed his ascension to basketball royalty en route to winning two NBA championships, it is easy to see that he is playing the best basketball of his career at this moment. Quite simply, he makes the correct decisions with the basketball and has quietly forged a reputation for being the game’s ultimate closer, despite once being thought of as a mere court-jester in the clutch.
Now in their fourth consecutive Eastern Conference Finals, James’ Game 4 performance against the Nets will go down with his 48-point performance in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Detroit Pistons back in 2007 and his 45-point, 15-rebound Game 6 performance against the Boston Celtics back in 2012.
With the game on the line and championship hopes hanging in the balance, there is no other player I would rather have on my team and with the ball in his hands than James. And if I am the opposing coach in that situation, there is no other player that strikes fear into my heart as much as James does.
As the HEAT trod toward their dynastic destiny, hoping to complete a three-peat, they do so with James—the greatest player of his generation.
Behind his 30 points, 7.1 rebounds and four assists and 8-1 record, the HEAT are following the lead of King James.
To perhaps a fourth consecutive NBA Finals appearance, they are clearly following the league’s playoff MVP.
– Moke Hamilton