FOR the first time in his career, LeBron James has won a playoff series without a teammate scoring 20 points in any of the games.
There’s not many career-firsts left for James after 15 dominant seasons in the league; but the reason he’s never achieved this one before is actually quite simple.
You shouldn’t be able to win a series like that.
That’s seven games against the Indiana Pacers where not a single other Cavalier scored 20 points or more.
By comparison, there were four Pacers who had 20-plus point games.
There was no classic Kevin Love first-half surge, J.R. Smith hot hand, or massive bench performance from the likes of Jeff Green, Rodney Hood, or Jordan Clarkson.
It was just LeBron James.
And as he’s done time and time again this season, the 33-year-old put the team on his back.
A 45-point Game 7 performance capped off a series where the four-time league MVP averaged 34.4, 10.1 rebounds, and 7.7 assists a game. It’s the fifth playoff series in which James has averaged at least 30 points, 10 rebounds, and seven assists per game.
No other player in NBA history has done that more than once.
Those are outrageous numbers.
It also marks the 20th time in James’ career that he’s been the outright team leader in points, rebounds, and assists in a playoff series.
Tim Duncan is next best in NBA history with six.
In turn, we’ve come to expect monster series performances from James.
In 2015, the superstar averaged 35.8 points, 13.3 rebounds, and 8.8 assists and arguably should have won Finals MVP in a losing effort against the Golden State Warriors.
But that was the NBA Finals.
This was a first-round series against a Pacers team with one breakout star.
And while the Cavs made do without Kyrie Irving in the regular season; it’s the playoffs where they’ve paid the price for his departure. Irving averaged over 25 points a game over the previous two years in the postseason.
Crucially, Irving also took the pressure off James’ shoulders throughout a game.
“I’m burnt right now … I’m tired. I wanna go home,” James told reporters after Game 7 against the Pacers.
You don’t normally hear those words out of James; especially after a first-round series.
Next up for the Cavs are the Toronto Raptors. The complete antithesis to the 2018 Cavs.
“Kudos to Dwane Casey; they’ve got like 10-12 guys that can come in and produce every single night,” James said post-game.
“We know the head of the snake is DeRozan and Lowry, but those guys off the bench come in with the same attitude and confidence as the starters.”
Toronto has developed into a complete basketball team that gets game-defining contributions all the way down their roster. It’ll prove too much for Cleveland unless James can find some help.
You’d be silly to rule out James and the Cavs completely — they’ve done enough over the years to earn a pause in judgment — but it’s going to take more than a couple of strong halves from Kyle Korver if they want to have a chance at progressing.
But whether it’s Kevin Love, George Hill, or J.R. Smith who steps up, the Cavs’ postseason run feels like an exercise in futility.
They don’t have enough and James would know that better than anyone.