CLEVELAND – LeBron James was relaxed, reflective and even resigned to his fate.
The end of the series, season and maybe his second stint in Cleveland, are near.
The Golden State Warriors have made his eighth straight NBA Finals – and their seasonal rivalry with the Cavaliers – very one-sided.
Still weary and wrestling with his emotions after losing Game 3 on Wednesday night, when Kevin Durant scored 43 points and shot the Warriors within one win of their third title in four years, James pointed out Thursday what has become terrifyingly obvious.
The Warriors are at another level. And may be for a while.
“Obviously, from a talent perspective, if you’re looking at Golden State from their top five best players to our top five players, you would say they’re stacked better than us. Let’s just speak truth,” James said before rattling off Golden State’s embarrassment of riches.
“Kevin Durant,” he said. “You’ve got two guys with MVPs on their team. And then you’ve got a guy in Klay (Thompson) who could easily be on a team and carry a team, scored 40 in a quarter before. And then you have Draymond (Green), who is arguably one of the best defenders and minds we have in our game. So you have that crew.
“Then you add on a Finals MVP coming off the bench (Andre Iguodala), a No. 1 pick in (Shawn) Livingston and an All-Star in David West and whatever the case may be. So they have a lot of talent.”
Too much, it seems, for these Cavs.
James wasn’t making excuses for Cleveland’s postseason pickle because if not for a reversed official’s call or J.R. Smith’s brain-lock in the closing seconds of regulation in Game 1 or Durant’s brilliance in Game 3, the Cavs could be leading the series.
The three-time champion, though, was being open and honest about the Cavs’ chances to become the first team to overcome a 3-0 deficit in the playoffs.
To this point, 131 have tried, and 131 have failed.
“We’ve been in a position where we could win two out of these three games,” said James, who had 33 points and his 10th Finals triple-double in Game 3. “So what do we have to do? Do we have to make more shots? Is it we have to have our minds into it a little bit more? Is it if there is a ball on the ground we can’t reach for it but you’ve got to dive for it?”
Those were today’s relevant questions. Tomorrow, they’ll be different ones if the Warriors, who have dealt with adversity all season, sweep the Cavs.
James is headed toward free agency and then where: Los Angeles? Philadelphia? Houston?
Or will he decide it’s too painful to part again with Cleveland, his basketball home for 11 seasons and just up the highway from his actual home in Akron?
The 33-year-old plans to consider everything once the season ends, but he offered some clues about what he’ll consider before making his next move, a decision that will dwarf any other NBA news in July. James also laid out a potential blueprint for the Cavs to follow if they want to keep him.
Bottom line: James needs better, smarter teammates.
No player in the league understands the current climate better than James, who formed a super-team in Miami with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh and won two NBA titles before returning to Cleveland and joining forces with All-Stars Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving. The Cavs’ reign lasted only one year, destroyed by Durant’s shocking departure from Oklahoma City for the 73-win Warriors, a team he couldn’t beat but was glad to join.
James said his decision to bolt from the Cavs the first time was simple.
“I knew that my talent level here in Cleveland couldn’t succeed getting past a Boston, getting past the San Antonios of the league or whatever the case may be,” he said.
But beyond the talent disparity, James said the key to winning a championship is “you’ve got to be very cerebral, too.”
James then explained what it takes to be the last team standing, and in the process seemed to take a swipe at unnamed current and former teammates.
“So now everyone is trying to figure that out,” he said. “How do you put together a group of talent but also a group of minds to be able to compete with Golden State, to be able to compete for a championship? That’s what GMs and presidents and certain players, it’s not every player. Every player does not want to – sad to say – but every player doesn’t want to compete for a championship and be in a position where every possession is pressure.”
Months of weight will lifted off him once the Warriors, who haven’t lost four straight games since 2013, are crowned again.
This series has been a painful reminder to James that the great teams have more than one king.
“When you make mistakes they make you pay,” he said, “because they’re already more talented than you are but they also have the minds behind it, too, and they also have the championship DNA.”
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