One of these days, LeBron James is not going to make the NBA Finals. We can only guess what the world will look like then—what diseases we will have cured, what wars will have been waged—but we will have to wait to find out. On Sunday night, James dragged the Cavaliers past the Boston Celtics in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals, a rock fight that ended 87–79 in favor of Cleveland. The greatest player of this (and maybe any) generation is now headed to his eighth straight championship series. Goodness gracious, man.
LeBron had 35 points, 15 rebounds, and 9 assists—that’s more points, rebounds, or assists than anyone else on either team. He played the full 48 minutes, and he didn’t let on that he was tired until the postgame trophy ceremony, which he observed from the floor.
The Cavs are not built to do this. A series of panicky midseason trades left LeBron with a dog’s breakfast of a squad that never truly coalesced. In February, Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr. were jacking up bricks under the relative anonymity granted to them by their Lakers’ jerseys. On Sunday, they were clanking those shots in an elimination game with a trip to the finals on the line. It didn’t matter, of course, because Cleveland has LeBron, a man seemingly incapable of taking vacation days in June.
More than half of LeBron’s 15-year NBA career has taken place during this current run of Eastern Conference dominance. Osama Bin Laden was alive the last time James didn’t appear in the finals. I’m not saying the two have anything to do with each other. It’s actually a pretty weird thing to mention in a basketball article, but please bear with me, as I’m running out of ways to explain how great LeBron is.
The Celtics had been 10–0 at home this postseason. They were unlikely conference finalists in their own right considering their injury woes. But Boston is talented and deep, with plenty of guys to throw at LeBron, like Marcus Morris and Jaylen Brown. Both those players simultaneously tried to stop James late in the fourth quarter, and he tore through them like a 747 through cloud vapor.
This game was not lacking in statement plays. There was rookie Jayson Tatum’s posterization of LeBron that, had the Celtics won, would’ve been stamped onto coins redeemable for a dozen glazed and a regular coffee at any Dunkin’ Donuts outlet in the greater Boston area. They didn’t, and so LeBron’s block of Terry Rozier will serve as the highlight that embodies his latest Game 7 triumph.
Tatum, Brown, and the Celtics will be very good for a very long time. These playoffs have shown they are indeed the future of the Eastern Conference. But the future isn’t the present, and on Sunday night the present looked a lot like the past. LeBron James is still here, and he’s still winning, and everyone else in the East is going to have to wait their turn.