Despite going off against the Boston Celtics a couple of postseasons ago, despite advancing to the Finals in five straight seasons, despite winning two NBA titles, LeBron James is still seen – at least among certain segments of the population – as not clutch.
Why? Why does that narrative still exist?
“Well, because people are idiots,” Comcast New England’s Kyle Draper said on CBS Sports Radio’s The DA Show. “Let’s just call it like it is. Those are people who really aren’t watching the games. You (can) even go back before that against Detroit back in 2007 when he scored 25 straight or whatever it was. LeBron is the most scrutinized NBA player, I think, of all time. Even Michael Jordan wasn’t this scrutinized. And people forget: Jordan took his lumps. He lost to the Detroit Pistons. He lost to the (Boston Celtics). As great as Michael Jordan was, he missed clutch shots. Kobe Bryant missed clutch shots. So I just think people love to pick on LeBron. And we live in a society now where . . . people forget (that) as great as Jordan and all these previous players were – Magic Johnson, he was called ‘Tragic’ Johnson for dribbling out the clock in the ’80s. People forget all that. They want LeBron to be perfect.
“I’ll say this about LeBron,” Draper continued, “because I’m a huge fan of LeBron James, to be honest with you. This guy has more than exceeded expectations coming out of high school. What else can you ask of the guy?”
James has won four regular season MVPs and a pair of Finals MVPs, he’s an 11-time All-Star, he’s led the league in scoring, he averaged almost a triple-double in the Eastern Conference Finals and he’s widely considered the best player on the planet.
So yes, he’s exceeded expectations.
If James can lead the Cavaliers to an upset of the Warriors, Cleveland would be the unlikeliest NBA champion since, who, the 2003-04 Detroit Pistons?
“I think so,” Draper said. “When you look at that ’04 Pistons team, nobody gave them a shot. The Lakers were the super team. And not many people are giving the Cleveland Cavaliers a shot. There are some out there, but if you look at the two teams LeBron has taken to the NBA Finals, the 2007 Cavs and the 2015 Cavs, and Kyrie Irving – we know he’s a great player, but he’s not himself right now. I mean, these are two of the talent-wise worst NBA Finals teams ever in the history of the game, and LeBron James has elevated the play of (guys like) Iman Shumpert and J.R. Smith.”
Especially Smith, who has gotten better in each round of the playoffs and might be the Cavs’ second-best player entering the Finals. He averaged 9.8 points and 3.3 rebounds against the Celtics, 12.8 points and 4.0 rebounds against the Bulls and 18.0 points and 7.5 rebounds against the Hawks. Smith also shot a sizzling 16-of-34 (47.1 percent) from three-point range in the four-game sweep of Atlanta.
“When he was with Carmelo Anthony, he was a head-case,” Draper said. “You couldn’t rely on him. Now that he’s with LeBron James, he’s playing the best basketball of his career.”