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One-man army

Kyle Riviere
kriviere@weeklycitizen.com
Weekly Citizen Spots Editor Kyle Riviere.

It's not often when you can say that someone has improved their legacy with a loss, but that's exactly what LeBron James did in this year's NBA Finals.

Losing is like poison to a world-class athlete. Any competitor worth his salt will do anything and everything he has to do to ensure a victory.

But like the old saying goes, "you can't win them all." And it's in those losses that an athlete really reveals who he is as a player.

The Cavaliers may have fallen to the Warriors in six games, but what James did in those six games was masterful. Even with the loss, it will go down as one of the greatest finals performances of all time.

Just the fact that the Cavs were able to stretch the series to six games is absolutely amazing and a true testament to just how good James really is. It just reinforced the belief that he is the best player on the planet.

Heading into the series, there was no Kevin Love and point guard Kyrie Irving was not 100 percent.

Then, the Cavs' chances plummeted even further into improbability when Irving fractured his knee in overtime of the Cavs' game-one loss in Oakland. When that happened, I--along with every other sports fan--thought the rest of the series would be a lop-sided sweep.

James proved me and everyone else wrong.

He had an enormous bolder placed upon his shoulders. It became simple. Either he would turn into Superman and singlehandedly carry his team to victory, or he and the rest of the squad would be embarrassed.

With no Love, with no Irving, it was LeBron or bust. In game two, he put up a triple-double with 39 points, 16 rebounds and 11 assists during a big upset overtime win in Oakland to even the series.

In game three, James led the Cavaliers to another victory to take a 2-1 lead in the series as he scored 40 and added 12 rebounds and eight assists.

Unfortunately, that's when Cleveland hit the wall. Being down two of their key pieces and having to play so hard to make up for their absence finally took its toll.

The Warriors won easily in game four to tie the series. They regained the series lead in game five and finally, they closed things out in Cleveland for game six.

It was James' fourth loss in the finals, but this one was different. It reminded me a lot of his first finals appearance back in 2007 when he led a team filled with role players to the championship series against the Spurs.

James had the challenge of trying to beat the NBA's best team, a team that won 67 games during the regular season, a team that was being led by MVP Stephen Curry.

He didn't have Love or Irving to help with scoring. He didn't have Love or Irving to take some of the attention and pressure off of him.

It was all on him, and Golden State knew that. They knew that they had to stop him and if they did, they would win. Even facing such great odds, he still had the Cavs up 2-1.

The Warriors had so many different options--Curry, Clay Thompson, finals MVP Andre Iguodala, Draymond Green, Harrison Barnes and so on.

The Cavs had James. Tristan Thompson and Iman Shumpert are good players, but they simply could not measure up to the supporting cast of the Warriors. It didn't help that J.R. Smith was wildly inconsistent.

Sure, James' finals average of 36 points, 13 rebounds and 9 assists is impressive. But what's most impressive is how he made his teammates better.

This guy named Timofey Mozgov all of a sudden became a monster down low. He scored in double-figures in three of the six games--going for 28 in game three.

Matthew Dellavedova became a household name--going for 10 and 20 in back-to-back games.

Ever since the finals have concluded, we've predictably seen habitual James haters like ESPN columnist Skip Bayless belittle what he accomplished because of his low field-goal percentage in the finals.

They'll acknowledge his series loss but will be very selective of the details and circumstances surrounding that series loss.

But here's one thing that they can't belittle: to take the Warriors to six games with no Love and no Irving is simply phenomenal. It's all-time great.

If you take James off of the roster that was left behind, they're a team that finishes with a losing record and doesn't even make the playoffs. With James, they were two wins away from winning a world title.