This is a statistical accomplishment I honestly never considered was even possible: in the NBA Finals, LeBron James led all players on both teams in points, assists, and rebounds. That’s a Finals first—obviously—and in the first two categories, it wasn’t even close. The Warriors won as a team; the Cavaliers lost as a team, dragging down one of the great individual efforts we’ll ever see.
So James’s shooting efficiency took a hit. (That’s the historical cudgel for this series, for those disposed to wield it against him.) Still, the man averaged 35.8, 8.8, and 13.3 these Finals, without anything that could be characterized as “help” except in furious and unsustainable stretches early in the series. “We ran out of talent,” said James, who played 275 of 298 total minutes.
LeBron did everything, except win the series MVP. But maybe it’s an even greater honor that the MVP was awarded for guarding him:
Andre Iguodala was great, and a great story: a combination of a veteran guy finally getting his, a complementary player finding his ideal role, and a paean to a truly well-rounded game. Even he acknowledged that his award was for making James seem, if not human, a little less superhuman. “I’ve been preparing for the moment for 11 years now,” Iguodala said of defending James. “ LeBron doesn’t have any weaknesses.”
I disagree with the MVP voting, not that my opinion matters. A lot depends on the pliable definition of the word “valuable.” But since we’re weighing two candidates from opposite teams, try this thought experiment: how would this series have gone if neither James nor Iguodala had played? Would Golden State have swept? Mercy-ruled Cleveland in three? There is no conceivable universe where Iguodala meant more to the Warriors’ chances than James did to the Cavs’.
At least we know there will never again be a Finals MVP from a losing team; if it didn’t happen last night, it’s clear that hidebound media voters have a categorical antipathy for separating performance from result. That’s OK. A trophy’s a trophy, and a legacy’s a legacy. The Warriors were the league’s best team from wire-to-wire, and deserved this championship—basketball’s role as the most meritocratic of major sports is refreshing sometimes—but none of that will be as memorable as James lugging this roster to 14 playoff wins. The league’s young stars are beginning to take over, but James showed he’s still the world’s best, one of the best ever, and in losing, somehow managed to play the doomed, tragic hero archetype. Sympathy for LeBron—who’d have ever thought?
David Blatt was speaking of his team as a whole, but it also serves as a perfect coda for LeBron James’s 2015 postseason.
“Not every story has a happy ending,” said Blatt. “It doesn’t mean it was a bad story. It was not. It was a good story.”