Take a look at my headline for this entry. I think I might be understating it a little bit. I think some of the reporting about the Cavaliers in wake of the drubbing they took in Game 5 and their subsequent 3-2 series disadvantage to the Celtics has been a little over-the-top. ESPN’s Bill Simmons asked if professional basketball in Cleveland died following Game 5. Love Simmons, but the Cavaliers haven’t been eliminated yet. Cleveland fans can panic, but the media needs to calm down a bit.
That said, tonight’s Game 6 in Boston between the Cavaliers and Celtics is an awfully big test for LeBron and Co. Mostly LeBron. I’ve heard the pundits saying that if LeBron plays well tonight and the Cavs lose, that he can leave Cleveland this off-season with his head held high. He can say, “I’m sorry, I did all I could,” and move on to where the money is greener. I disagree. I think if the Cavaliers lose tonight or even if they win tonight and lose Game 7, LeBron needs to shoulder a lot of the blame. First, the Cavaliers shouldn’t lose to the Celtics. They’re better than the Celtics. If the Cavaliers advance and lose to the Magic in the Eastern finals, it’s a little more palatable because the Magic are really good and Cleveland has no answer for Dwight Howard. But this series, against the Celtics, is not a series Cleveland should lose. If they do, it’s not enough to pin the blame solely on LeBron’s teammates. They haven’t played well, but that’s not the point. It doesn’t really matter how well LeBron plays individually, it’s about what every great legendary player has been able to do in leading his team to a title — make his teammates better. LeBron has failed to do that thus far in this series. Great players, the elite legendary type — the kind of player we believe LeBron to be — take the teammates they’re given and make the best of it. If LeBron can’t do that, then the “I did all I could” excuse doesn’t work for me.
I do think the Cavaliers will win tonight. I think it’s a little crazy to doubt LeBron now. He has a pretty solid track record of stepping up when needed. I expect the Cavaliers to win the next two games and advance to play the Magic. Then all bets are off.
Of course, if I’m wrong, then it gets really interesting. We’ll continue to follow with interest Magic-Celtics and Lakers-Suns, but LeBron’s free-agent status will be lingering in the background the entire time.