The 2018 NBA playoffs could be summed up as a completely dominant display of grit, will power and individual talent in the Eastern Conference and smooth, silky and dominant play in the Western Conference. LeBron James single-handedly willed the Cleveland Cavaliers into the playoffs through the young and competitive Eastern Conference, and then further dragged his teammates along to the NBA Finals. The Story of the West however was completely different. The talent laden Golden State Warriors never needed all of their stars firing at the same time to get to the Finals. 2018 was the peak of their dominant Hamptons-Five lineup of Green, Iguodala, Durant, Klay and Curry. But LeBron James somehow managed to control them in Game 1. His performance was such that, at certain points in the game it seemed like the Warriors had met their match. But before we look at how Lebron almost did the unthinkable, we need to understand how he got there, and how it all culminated in his greatest playoff performance of all time.
Just months after facing off in the 2017 Eastern Conference Finals, the Cavaliers dealt their star point guard Kyrie Irving to the Boston Celtics in exchange for guard Isaiah Thomas, forward Jae Crowder, center Ante Zizic and a first-round pick in 2018 that belonged to the Brooklyn Nets. Thomas was still recovering from a hip injury he suffered in the previous postseason and was ruled out till January 2018. The Cavs limped into the new year with a disjointed team solely reliant on the play of Lebron James. But even after Thomas returned, things didn’t seem to improve.
The new pieces were not meshing, and rumblings of discontent, particularly centering on Thomas, threatened to end a run at a fourth straight trip to the NBA Finals.The Cavs then blew things up at the trade deadline, making deals that included sending out Crowder and Thomas. In return, the Cavs get Jordan Clarkson, George Hill, Rodney Hood and Larry Nance Jr. Thomas is dealt to the Lakers
The new look Cavs were built with the motive of facilitating everything through Lebron. sharp shooters like Korver and JR Smith were essential and new acquisition George Hill was deemed as a replacement for Irving. But it was clear that the play was going to go through Lebron. For the next 3 Months Lebron played at a league MVP level and led the Cavaliers into the post-season with a 50-32 record, and the 4th Seed.
Cleveland went into the first round, facing off against a gritty Indiana Pacers. Led by their young star Victor Oladipo, who was acquired in a trade that saw Paul George leave for the Oklahoma City Thunder. LeBron James entered the playoffs with a 21-0 record in the First Round. A streak that spanned back to when he was with the Miami Heat.
Cleveland were stunned in Game 1 as the Pacers ended Lebrons streak with a 98-80 win, which saw the Cavs struggle to score from beyond the arc shooting only 23.5%. But the Cavs rallied back to win the series in 7 Games, which included an iconic buzzer-beater in Game-5 to Give the Cavs a 3-2 series lead.
Cleveland went into the second round facing off against the number 1 seeded Toronto Raptors. But the story for the baby dinosaurs was all too similar as Lebron and co. beat the Raptors yet again for the third year in a row. This series featured yet another Lebron buzzer-beater in Game-3 to give the Cavaliers an unassailable 3-0 series lead
After a comfortable series sweep against the Raptors, the Cavaliers progressed into the Eastern Conference Finals against the Boston Celtics. Though the Celtics were missing star players like Gordon Hayward and star point guard and former Cavalier Kyrie Irving, their young core of Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Terry Rozier powered them past the Bucks and the 76ers into the Finals. The Celtics presented the Cavs a tough challenge, with the home team winning every game in the series. The series deciding Game 7 was in TD Garden in Boston. But Lebrons experience proved vital as the Cavaliers won Game 7, with a virtuoso of 35 points and 15 rebounds on 50% shooting by the King.
The 2018 Finals was the 4th Consecutive time the Cavaliers and Warriors were set to face off against each other for the ultimate prize. It was also the first time in NBA history that the same 2 teams were involved in the Finals for 4 consecutive seasons. Golden State came in as favourites, and deservedly so. The Warriors themselves were coming off a 7 game series against League MVP James Harden and the top seeded Houston Rockets in the Western Conference Finals. But with LeBron James in full flow, many expected it to be a long series unlike the 2017 Finals which only went 5 games.
In Retrospect, Game 1 of the Finals featured possibly the greatest single game individual performance ever by LeBron James. James managed to fully control the game, he was playing at a level only ever seen before in the likes of Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan. He controlled the clock, and the game flowed according to the pace he chose to set himself at. But what made this performance better and more impressive than MJ in Game 6 of the 98 Finals or Kobe in the 09 Finals against the Boston Celtics, was the huge talent disparity between 2 teams.
LeBron James was possibly going up against the greatest group of talent ever assembled, and he was mostly doing it with no help. Lebron put up 51 points on 59% shooting and also shot 42% from beyond the arc. Defensively too, he took turns guarding Kevin Durant and Steph Curry. But sadly the game won’t be remembered for this.
The image forever etched into Basketball fans’s mind is that off JR Smith forgetting there was time left on the game clock, and denying Cleveland and Lebron a chance at a potential game-winner, which could have possibly turned the tides of the series.
But the Game went to overtime. Reportedly in the break before the start of overtime, Lebron punched a board in the locker room breaking his right hand, he was seen wearing a cast in press interviews throughout the remainder of the series. As for overtime, with a disgruntled Lebron, Golden-State took the game over and ended up winning 124-114.The series was over not long after, as the Warriors went on to sweep the Cavs 4-0 with Kevin Durant winning his second consecutive Finals MVP. As for Lebron this series marked the end of his second tenure in Cleveland, one in which he finally brought glory back to The Land. That summer LeBron packed up and left for the City Of Angles to play for the Los Angeles Lakers.