It has been a rough season for LeBron James and his Cleveland Cavaliers team. A season of change, turmoil, more change and struggles. Yet many fans and pundits never seemed to doubt the fact that they would return to the Finals for a fourth straight year, because they have LeBron James… and that is what he does.
One year ago the Cavs swept their way to the Eastern Conference Finals, defeating both the Indiana Pacers and Toronto Raptors They moved into the Conference Finals, taking on the Boston Celtics, the number one seed. The Cavs won that series in five games, never looking in trouble. One year on Cleveland have once again made their way to The Finals, facing the same three teams they did the year before… but this time the results were much different.
First Round – Cleveland Cavaliers vs Indiana Pacers
Heading into the first round many onlookers would not have been surprised to see the Cleveland Cavaliers sweep the Indiana Pacers, after all they had the better team and the best player in the game today. Not to mention that until this point, LeBron James had never lost a Game 1 in his entire career.
No-one was expecting the 18 point blowout loss that the Pacers handed the Cavs, with Victor Oladipo – breakout star of the season – dropping a game high 32 points. James went scoreless in the first quarter but bounced back to rack up 24 points by the end of the fourth, however the Cavs four other starters could only muster 25 points combined.
As has become a theme throughout not only these playoffs, but his entire career, LeBron bounced back after defeat, racking up 46 points and 12 assists in game two. Despite this the Cavs only won by three points, just eeking out the victory, setting the tone for the rest of the series,
The Pacers would defend home court in game three holding out to beat the Cavs by two, with Bojan Bogdanavic leading the way with 30 points and a vast number of threes. With a 2-1 lead people started to wonder if Indiana could do it, if they could end James’ 7 year NBA Finals streak. They couldn’t.
The Cleveland Cavaliers managed to wrap up the series taking taking three of the last four games, with LeBron James again scoring 40+ points for the third time in the series. It was a worrying start to the Playoffs for a Cavaliers team that were harbouring hopes of not only making it back to The Finals, but once again taking home the NBA Championship.
Cleveland Cavaliers win the series 4-3
Round Two – Toronto Raptors vs Cleveland Cavaliers
Here it was, the series that many fans and pundits expected to be the biggest test for the Cavaliers coming out of the East. There were many who felt that Dwane Casey and the Toronto Raptors had finally come of age and were ready to topple The King, after years of trying and failing.
Despite their struggles against the Pacers, Cleveland had no such trouble with Toronto. Despite being the number one seed and therefore heading into the series with home court advantage, they did not hold it for long. Dropping the first game of the series in a close fought battle that stretched into overtime.
The Raptors came into game two looking visibly defeated, never really threatening as the Cavs cruised to an 18 point victory and taking a two-nil lead in the series. The real dagger came in game three, at the Quicken Loans Arena, as LeBron James hit a mid-range fadeaway at the buzzer to give the Cavs an insurmountable 3-0 lead.
The Cavaliers team that had been hastily reformed and rebuilt at the trade deadline finally appeared to be clicking, working together, they seemed like a completely different team. Heading into the Eastern Conference Finals the Cavs were on a roll and looked ready to cruise past a weakened Boston Celtics team.
Cleveland Cavaliers win the series 4-0
Eastern Conference Finals – Boston Celtics vs Cleveland Cavaliers
Despite being a repeat of last year’s Eastern Conference Finals both teams came into this series looking dramatically different to the year before. The Celtics came into this matchup after having 13 players leave and 11 come in. The Cavs meanwhile had even more change throughout the season, trading star point guard Kyrie Irving to Boston at the start of the season. They then traded players received in this deal mid season, bringing in five new players at the trade deadline.
Despite the massive changes in the two rosters it was expected that Cleveland would once again breeze by the Boston Celtics, who were without two of their star players (Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving). But Boston were hungry, and ready for a fight, they felt that no matter who they were missing, their time was now. They were almost right.
In game one the Celtics came out swinging, catching Lue and his Cavaliers by surprise eventually winning by 25 points, never letting Cleveland into the game. It was a similar story in game two, this time the Celtics won by 13 but again Cleveland never looked like they were really in the game, never really threatening to push the Celtics.
Heading back to Cleveland the Celtic’s poor road record in the Playoffs was called into question, they had only managed to pick up one win on the road throughout their first two series. It was this poor road form that ultimately cost them the series, letting the Cavs back in after they won game three by 30 points, bringing the series back to 2-1, before edging out a nine point win to tie the series in the next game.
Again LeBron James was crucial for the Cleveland Cavaliers, scoring over 40 points in three of the seven games. Two one sided games split for each team ended with the series tied 3-3, heading back to Boston for a critical game seven. So important was this game to James that he played all 48 minutes, not sitting for even a second as the two teams battled on the court. At the end of the game James finished one assist shy of a triple-double, racking up a stat line of; 35 points, 15 assists and 9 assists.
In a scrappy, low scoring game, the Cavaliers managed to come out on top. Claiming the Eastern Conference crown for the fourth time in as many years, once again advancing to the NBA finals. The fourth time in a row for the franchise, and the eighth time in a row for LeBron James. It has been a tough journey this time around, one that is likely to have sapped a lot of strength from James and his team, and certainly one of his more impressive Playoff performances.
Cleveland Cavaliers win the series 4-3
Will we be seeing a repeat of the Cleveland Cavaliers taking on the Golden State Warriors once more? Or will the Houston Rockets advance to the Finals for the first time in over 20 years. Either way, despite many fans fears at the beginning of the season, it has certainly been an entertaining Playoffs so far, could we see another shock in this years Finals? Will it be a fourth title for LeBron? Or will it slip through his fingers once more?