During the final postgame press conference of the 2017-18 NBA season, after LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers got swept by the Golden State Warriors, James was asked a peculiar question. A reporter asked LeBron to explain how he wanted the 2017-18 season to be remembered in regard to his ongoing legacy. James answered by saying it’s up to the media and fans to determine that and the only thing he can do is continue to come to work, punch the clock, and grind, or something of that nature. I decided to take a look back at the King’s legendary 2017-18 campaign and highlight some games and moments that made potentially his last season with the Cavaliers so fantastic. All statistics used throughout this article are courtesy of Basketball Reference.
While I don’t want this article to turn into a list of LeBron’s best games of the season, there are a few that I want to quickly mention. He opened the season against the Boston Celtics in a game that makes most of us begin to feel queasy when reminiscing upon due to the horrific ankle injury endured by Gordon Hayward. It was also the first Kyrie vs. LeBron matchup since Kyrie left Cleveland last offseason. LeBron turned in a gem of a game, going for 29 points, 16 rebounds and 9 assists. He fell one assist short of a triple-double but emphatically showed that he was still the King of the Eastern Conference. In another early season game, LeBron went into Washington and dropped 57 points 11 rebounds and 7 assists in a winning effort against a team that many thought would contend in the East. Like most years, LeBron wasted no time getting year 15 off and running.
I wanted to make sure I highlighted a couple of his early season games to emphasize the fact that LeBron was locked in the entire season starting from the jump. Not only did he play in all 82 games for the first time in his 15th season, but he also shined in the majority of these games. Bron averaged 27.5 points, 8.6 rebounds, and 9.1 assists, all of which are higher than his career averages. Let’s not forget about the complete overhaul of teammates at the trade deadline which saw the Cavs welcome George Hill, Rodney Hood, Larry Nance Jr., and Jordan Clarkson while they unloaded Dwyane Wade, Jae Crowder, Isaiah Thomas, Derrick Rose, Channing Frye, and Iman Shumpert. LeBron navigated through these changes and helped the Cavs secure the 4th seed in the East going into the playoffs.
At this point in his career, it seems clear that LeBron has another level that he takes it to in the playoffs. Called Zero Dark 30 in previous years, this level brings James’ performance to new heights almost every postseason and this year was no outlier. While the postseason did have both highs and lows, it didn’t take LeBron long to establish his dominance. After going down 1-0 to the Indiana Pacers, James dropped 46 points to even the series heading back to Indiana. Although the series was competitive from the tip of game 1 to the buzzer of game 7, it never really felt like LeBron would be taking an early exit from the Pacers. James had three 40+ point games in this series including a 45-point effort to seal the deal and head to the next round against Toronto.
Like past years, LeBron and the Cavs had little trouble with the Raptors and advanced past them in 4 games. He had his best performance of the series in a convincing game 2 victory in Toronto. James poured in 43 points and 14 assists in an 18-point victory that both put the Cavs up 2-0 going back to Cleveland and erased any ounce of confidence the Raptors may have still been retaining after losing game 1 by just 1 point.
The Boston Celtics offered the most resistance to LeBron and the Cavs despite not having Gordon Hayward or Kyrie Irving. The Celtics pushed the Cavs to 7 games through superb coaching, stout defense, and the play of some up and coming stars like Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and Terry Rozier. After each team defended their home court through the first six games, LeBron did what LeBron does in Game 7’s and eliminated the Celtics on their home court to the tune of 35 points and 16 boards. LeBron had three 40+ point games in the series against the Celtics, giving him 7 such games in 18 postseason outings before the Finals.
Entering the Finals matchup against the Golden State Warriors, the whole narrative seemed to be all about LeBron carrying his team through the first three rounds of the postseason, which he had. Now he was about to go up against arguably the best team of all time. The results could have gone one of two ways. Either LeBron would solidify himself as the greatest player ever by taking down one of the all-time greatest teams or the Warriors would be known as the NBA’s newest dynasty by winning three out of the last four titles. As we all know, the latter was the outcome that unfolded but not before LeBron added to his legacy. In Game 1 LeBron dropped a whopping 51 points and did all he could to go up 1-0 in the Finals. Instead, we witnessed one of the most eye-popping championship blunders of all time, courtesy of JR Smith. Poor guy. It was an exemplification of the fact that even when LeBron delivers a historical performance, it’s just so hard to beat the Warriors in a game much less a series. The Cavs went on to lose 4-0 at the hands of the Golden State Warriors as they claimed their third title in four years against LeBron.
The conclusion of this series meant the end of yet another NBA season and marked the beginning of the Summer of LeBron Part III. It was no secret that this Cleveland Cavaliers roster was never going to be enough to take down the mighty Warriors which raises questions as to what LeBron will do this summer as a free agent. He has a player option worth over $35 million to return to the Cavaliers next season but also has multiple suitors around the league. Many believe those suitors to include the Rockets, Lakers, Spurs, Sixers, Celtics, Heat, and perhaps even the defending champion Warriors. While things promise to get hectic as the NBA Draft and free agency approaches, all eyes will be on LeBron as he mulls his offers and chooses the option that is best fit for both him and his family.
Regardless of if LeBron wins the MVP award or not, he surely delivered a legendary performance throughout the season that won’t soon be forgotten. He soared to new heights while battling adversity along the way. Just because he fell short in the NBA Finals against what could very well be the greatest team of all time shouldn’t take away from the greatness we witnessed on a nightly basis. Everyone has been mentioning LeBron’s name alongside the likes of Michael Jordan for years, but is it getting to be time for us to mention LeBron’s name above Jordan’s?