LeBron can solidify legacy with Game 7 win over Warriors

Updated: June 18, 2016
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LeBron James is the most scrutinized player in NBA history. Period.

He’s spent the majority of his career in the social media age, which allows fans to attack him with absurd, unnecessary comments on a daily basis. Whether he wins, loses, posts a triple-double or just dominates the game from a scoring standpoint, there will be someone, somewhere, just prepared to criticize the 31-year-old superstar from Akron, OH.

He was considered the “chosen one” when entering the league, and, for the most part, he’s lived up to the hype. LeBron is in his 13th season, and has been to the NBA Finals seven times. He’s basically spent more than half of his career on the big stage. How many NBA players, or athletes for that matter, can say that? Not many.

Now he doesn’t have the best record when reaching the Finals — at just 2-4 — but he has an opportunity to silence many of his critics Sunday night, as the Cleveland Cavaliers take on the Golden State Warriors in a much anticipated Game 7. The Warriors are arguably the best team in history, after finishing the regular season with a 73-9 record and one win away from capturing their second title in a row. They led the series 3-1, and seemed poised to cruise their way to another championship.

Then, things got interesting.

Warriors forward Draymond Green was suspended for Game 5, after receiving yet another flagrant, which opened things up for the Cavs to steal one on the road. LeBron and his sidekick Kyrie Irving, who’s been playing the Robin role to perfection over the past few games, scored 41 points apiece and extended the series. Then back at “The Q” in Cleveland on Thursday night, LeBron took matters into his own hands and scored 41 for a second consecutive game. It was the first time I’ve witnessed a player accomplish that type of feat in the NBA Finals with his back against the wall.

In those two outings, while facing elimination, LeBron averaged 41 points, 12 rebounds, 9.0 assists, 3.5 steals and 3.0 blocks. And he’s shooting nearly 60 percent from the field. The King has positioned himself to be named MVP of the Finals whether his team wins Game 7 or not. Plus, he’s starting to put an end to the whole “Steph Curry has surpassed LeBron as the NBA’s best player” discussion.

Curry has struggled in the Finals — for a second straight year. He’s averaging 23.5 points (6.6 below his season average), just 4.0 assists and 4.3 turnovers per game. He hasn’t looked as magical as he did during his unanimous MVP-winning season. But he does have a chance to put the icing on the cake Sunday night.

However, LeBron has a chance to defeat the team with the best regular-season record in history, on the biggest stage, after trailing 3-1. No team has ever come back from a 3-1 deficit in the Finals — and LeBron’s troops have a chance to do just that. He would also bring the city of Cleveland its first professional sports title since 1964 — when the Cleveland Browns won the “NFL championship,” which was obviously before the Super Bowl era.

So, no, LeBron will never be Michael Jordan. He won’t go 6-0 in the Finals and have a nearly flawless career. And no, he won’t have the luxury of playing alongside someone as dominant as Shaq in his prime. But with a victory Sunday night, on the road, against maybe the best team the NBA has seen, LeBron can change the narrative that’s surrounded him over the years. He would force fans to put some “respeck” on it, as Birdman would say.

This is a career-defining moment for LeBron. With a loss, he’d fall to 2-5 in the Finals and come up short yet again. But with a win, everything changes. He’d add to his legacy of being one of the most preeminent athletes of our generation, and put a stamp on his third championship.

The last time he played in a Game 7, it was 2013 in the NBA Finals against the San Antonio Spurs. LeBron scored 34 points, grabbed 12 rebounds and dished out four assists, as he led the Miami Heat to a second straight title. He’s 3-2 in Game 7s in his career, and hasn’t lost one since 2008 against the Boston Celtics — during his first stint with the Cavs.

It won’t be an easy task, as the Warriors haven’t lost three straight games all season. But expect LeBron to show up in a big way. He’s just one victory shy of accomplishing his ultimate goal — bringing a championship home to the city of Cleveland.

Josiah Turner

Josiah is the founder and editor-in-chief at Sideline Sports Report. He has written for ESPN.com and is currently a digital editor at the SEC Network. He has covered the Washington Redskins for FanSided, and he has also covered high school basketball for Rivals.com and the Mechanicsville Local newspaper. Josiah is from Chesapeake, Va., and a college graduate from Virginia Commonwealth University.

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