COLUMN: NBA Playoffs show off LeBron James’ greatness

In almost any industry you can think of, trends come and go as quickly as the wind blows.

In fashion, there’s always the new accessory or handbag that is a
must-have on Monday. But on Tuesday you’re a fashionless fool if you’re still rocking it. In economics, there always seems to be the “can’t miss” investment that riles up Wall Street but eventually degrades into a deep money hole.

The opening week-and-change of the NBA Playoffs have revealed similar fads in the world of sports.

The 2016-17 NBA regular season was dominated by historic statistical performances. Whether it was the craze over triple-doubles or historic 3-pointer totals, offensive numbers dominated the focus of this season.

These statistics, however, are brief obsessions. The first round has exposed the NBA’s statistical fads thanks to arguably basketball’s biggest constant over the past decade-and-a-half: the greatness of LeBron James.

James and the Cleveland Cavaliers are coming off of a first-round sweep of the Indiana Pacers, and while the 4-0 series win may paint the Pacers as a blow-by opponent for the Cavs, they were anything but an easy opening matchup. All four games finished with a winning margin of six points or less.

Game 3 saw Cleveland overcome a 25-point halftime deficit to defeat Indiana, 119-114, on the road. With fellow stars Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love sitting out the fourth quarter, James led the Cavaliers to the greatest second-half comeback in NBA Playoff history. James finished the game with 41 points, 13 rebounds and 12 assists, playing one of the greatest individual halves in basketball history.

Then, in Sunday’s close-out game in Indiana, James nailed a 3-pointer with 1:08 remaining in regulation to give Cleveland a one-point lead it would not surrender, sending the Cavaliers through to the conference semifinals.

James has now won his last 21 first-round games, dating back to his Miami Heat playing days.

Doesn’t it feel like just yesterday when folks routinely cracked on James for his lack of the “clutch-factor”? And look, I — a pretty huge LeBron apologist — will admit that the Dallas meltdown in the 2011 NBA Finals was pretty catastrophic. There was no clutch in the then-26-year-old James.

But since that series, James has proven time and time again that he is one of the league’s premier crunch-time players, rising up in the biggest moments.

Just one year ago, it was James who led the Cavaliers to overcome a 3-1 series deficit to the Golden State Warriors and win the NBA Championship. That wasn’t just any team that the Cavs reeled off three consecutive wins against — it was the all-time greatest regular season team in history: the  73-9 Warriors.

Last year’s Finals saw James become the first player in league history to lead all five major statistical categories over the duration of a playoff series. In seven finals games against the Warriors, James averaged 29.7 points, 11.3 rebounds, 8.9 assists, 2.6 steals and 2.3 blocks per game.

Yeah, you’d better put some respect on this man’s name.

But, naturally, some will stubbornly refuse to do so. It’s incredible to think that just hours after the Cavaliers closed out the Pacers (with James scoring 33 points and grabbing 10 rebounds), ESPN published a piece titled, “Is this the beginning of LeBron James’ end?” Haters, obviously, are going to hate.

They can deny the greatness, but they can’t deny the resume — that’s there to stay. There’s the 13 All-Star Game selections, four league MVP trophies, three world championships and the scoring title. But what is perhaps James’ greatest achievement is the fact that he has played in the last six NBA Finals, starting from 2011. In the Eastern Conference, having James on your team has been an automatic bid to basketball’s biggest stage.

And this year’s Cavaliers team is looking no different. Consecutive Finals trip No. 7 looks to be on tap for James this postseason.

As the rest of the Eastern Conference teams fight through series that will likely go six or seven games in length, the Cavs are doing something they’ve been able to do quite a bit this season: rest.

The Cavaliers’ minute-reducing tactics for its starters this season have been well-documented and heavily criticized from all sides. Cleveland’s willingness to rest its starters, even for nationally televised games during the regular season, shows just where this team’s treasure is. James’ team is all about the Larry O’Brien Trophy — and nothing else.

For James, his fire for NBA titles far outweighs regular season glory — which he has already accumulated plenty of. He’ll let the NBA have its flashy triple-doubles, first-round Game Sevens and primetime regular season matchups. After all, those are just fads. Winning championships — that’s the ultimate constant.

Angel Viscarra is a sophomore studying broadcast and digital journalism. His column, “Viscarra’s Vice,” ran on Tuesdays.