The 2019 NBA Finals have just wrapped up with the Toronto Raptors defeating the Golden State Warriors in 6 games winning Game 6 by a score of 114-110. Kawhi Leonard joined LeBron James and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the only players to win Finals MVP for two different franchises. “The Klaw” is also the first player to win Finals MVP in both conferences. Leonard averaged 28.5 points, 9.8 rebounds, and 4.2 assists in the series. The Warriors had to deal with some costly injuries throughout the duration of this year’s playoffs. Kevin Durant was sidelined in 9 games this postseason due to a right calf injury. Durant played 12 minutes in Game 5 but left the game with a ruptured achilles. Klay Thompson missed Game 3 with a left hamstring strain, and to make matters worse tore his left ACL in the third quarter of Game 6. With all of the chaos and injuries the Warriors had to endure for the first time in their historic five year run, it raises the question: How would LeBron James have fared this season if he stayed in Cleveland? The answer: LeBron James would have reached his 9th straight NBA Finals and won his fourth title, bringing Cleveland its second championship in four years.
LeBron averaged 27.4 ppg, 8.5rpg, and 8.3 apg in his first season with the Lakers. The numbers he put up this year were all higher than his career averages except for three point percentage, showing that LeBron is still playing basketball in the prime of his career. However, LeBron only played 55 games due to a groin injury he sustained Christmas day against the Warriors. This is the primary reason why the Lakers missed the playoffs this season. They went 7-15 without James and this shows the huge impact he still has on his teams and the layout of the league as a whole. In addition, the only game that LeBron started fully healthy against the Warriors was on Christmas day, a game the Lakers won handily 127-101. This further exemplifies that James can compete with the top teams in the league even when they are at full strength.
If LeBron would have stayed in Cleveland, the Cavaliers would have made the playoffs near the top of the Eastern Conference. In James’ second stint with the Cavs, they averaged 53 wins per season. A record of 53-29 would have been good for the third seed in the Eastern Conference. This would have netted the Cavaliers a first round matchup against the Victor Oladipo-less Indiana Pacers. The Pacers took the 2018 LeBron led Cavs to seven games in the first round, but Oladipo’s absence would have been too much for the Pacers to overcome as they lose the series in a sweep.
Next up for the Cavs the real-life champion, second seeded Toronto Raptors who beat the Brooklyn Nets in five games. This series would be a lot tougher for the Cavaliers, but they would edge out the Raptors in seven games. I know that Kawhi Leonard is considered to be a LeBron stopper, but in the playoffs LeBron James is a different animal. LeBron has split his finals matchups with Kawhi Leonard, with LeBron winning in 2013 and Kawhi winning in 2014.. In the playoffs against Leonard, James has averaged 26.5ppg, 9.6rpg, and 5.8apg. Additionally, in their only matchup during the 2019 season James scored 29 in a losing effort. His career averages against Kawhi show that Leonard, although a great defender, may not be as huge of a “LeBron stopper” that many people think. Then again, is there truly anyone who is a LeBron stopper? Additionally, the Cavaliers this season without LeBron also took the March 11 matchup against the fully healthy Toronto Raptors 126-101. Collin Sexton averaged 16 points per game in four games against the Raptors this season, and Kevin Love in his only outing against them scored 16 points and grabbed eight boards. This shows that the squad around LeBron could compete with the Raptors, and LeBron would take them over the top in an epic seven game series against Kawhi’s Raptors.
After the marathon series against the Raptors, the Cavs would be faced off against the top seeded Milwaukee Bucks in the Eastern Conference Finals who beat the Magic and the Sixers to advance. LeBron James has absolutely dominated Giannis and the Bucks throughout his career. Head to head, Lebron holds a 14-4 record against Giannis Antetokounmpo. In games against the Greek Freak, LeBron averages 27.6ppg, 7.2rpg, and 8.6apg. While Giannis only averages 21.7ppg, 8.5rpg, and 4.4apg. This shows how dominant he is against the Bucks, and how much he slows down Antetokounmpo. The LeBron-less Cavs also won a matchup against Giannis and the Bucks 107-102 in mid March. Sexton also played well against Milwauakee this season averaging 16 points. Kevin Love in his only outing against Milwaukee this year had a 20 point and 19 rebound game. LeBron’s dominance of Milwaukee and Giannis, and the ability of his supporting cast to play well allow the Cavs to win this series in six games and advance to their fifth straight and LeBron’s 9th straight NBA Finals.
The 2019 NBA season would all come down to Cavs Warriors part V. However, this time unlike 2015, the Warriors are missing two of their star players at different points in the series. In Game 1 of the series the Warriors are at home without Kevin Durant. The Cavaliers edge out the Warriors in this game behind Lebron James’ epic performance of 37 points, 11 rebounds, and 8 assists. The Warriors respond in Game 2 winning a close game behind a strong outing from Curry, Thompson, and Green who combined for 65 points. The series shifts back to the Land for games 3 and 4. Klay Thompson suffers a hamstring strain in Game 2, and it causes him to miss Game 3. The Cavs win Game 3 handily by 15 points at home, as LeBron drops 35 points, 10 rebounds, and 7 assists. Kevin Love adds 17 points and 9 rebounds. They overcome Steph Curry’s Finals career high to take a 2-1 lead in the best of seven series. Game 4 sees the return of Klay Thompson, but without Kevin Durant the Cavaliers win on their home floor. The Cavs use a big third quarter to overcome the Warriors halftime lead to take a 3-1 lead in the series. Game 5 sees the return of Kevin Durant at Oracle arena. However, the return is short lived as late in the first quarter Durant ruptured his achilles. The Warriors have their backs against the wall, but rally around Durant to win Game 5 by one possession. Curry and Thompson hit clutch shots down the stretch to fight off the Cavaliers comeback efforts. Game 6 goes back to Cleveland where the Cavs hope to close out their second championship in four years at home. Collin Sexton comes out firing in this game, scoring 12 points in the first quarter going 3-3 from deep. LeBron scores 25, and adds 6 rebounds and 7 assists. Kevin Love also shoots it well from deep and ends the night with 20 points and 11 rebounds. The Warriors lose Klay Thompson to an ACL tear in the at the end of the third quarter, but despite this have a chance to win down 1 with 15 seconds left. However, Steph Curry’s disappearance act continues as he falls to 0-8 on go ahead shots in the last 20 seconds of NBA playoff games. LeBron hits two free throws and the buzzer sounds after a desperation heave from the Warriors falls short. LeBron James bring another title home, and wins his 4th championship overall. He is named Finals MVP after leading the series in points, rebounds and assists. In his postgame interview, he again says “ CLEVELAND! THIS IS FOR YOU!”, and this time gets an earth shattering cheer from the home crowd. Confetti fills Quicken Loans arena, as the people of Cleveland hug, cheer, and cry for their Cavaliers who are the champions of the world. A few days later, the parade sees millions of people come together for the second time, and Cleveland becomes a city of champions once again.
Photo Credits: https://www.nba.com/cavaliers/photogallery/atlcle-150526-2
In sports, one of the most asked questions is “What could have been?” If LeBron would have stayed in Cleveland, he would have won the championship this season. However, he had to take his talents to Hollywood in a move that was more for after his career than it was for winning championships and chasing that #23 from Chicago.