CLEVELAND -- Just how good is Cleveland Cavaliers small forward LeBron James?
Well, in the opinion of point guard Kyrie Irving, James goes well beyond good and enters “great” territory, and that is proven every year in the postseason, where James has managed to lead the Miami Heat and Cavaliers on a combined seven straight trips to the NBA Finals with three championships on the resume.
“I think that some people would say that he's on the toe of -- like he's on the line of greatness, but that guy is way over,” Irving said. “Man, he's freaking awesome. As a student of the game, it would be a disservice to myself if I didn't try to learn as much as possible while I'm playing with this guy.”
Despite coming up on the losing end of The Finals for the fifth time in eight trips, James made NBA history against the Golden State Warriors this postseason. James averaged a triple-double of points, rebounds and assists over the five games, a first for the NBA’s championship series.
James averaged 33.6 points, 12.0 rebounds and 10.0 assists while shooting .564 from the field and .387 from three-point range against the Warriors.
“Every, single day, (he’s) demanding more out of himself, demanding more out of us, the true testament of a consummate professional,” Irving said. “Understanding how things work, not only just in the game, but off the court, things that matter, just taking care of your body, understanding the magnitude of what the goal is at hand and what steps it takes in order to achieve that goal.
“You can't skip any steps, and that was one thing that I came to understand because as a young player, you want everything to happen right now. And Bron's been in this league for a while now, and he's seen every which way from on the court to off the court, to dealing with some of you guys, to dealing with the whole world of just choosing a side. Whether you want to believe in him or not, he's still coming.”
For most of his basketball career, James was chasing the ghost of arguably the greatest player in the sport’s history, Chicago Bulls legend Michael Jordan.
In one sense, James caught up to at least part of that ghost when he passed Jordan for the most points scored in NBA Playoffs history with a 35-point showing in a 135-102 closeout win over the Boston Celtics in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals at TD Garden last month.
Then, against the Warriors, James passed Los Angeles Lakers legend Earvin “Magic” Johnson for the most triple-doubles in NBA Finals history.
“That's the type of guy that I want to be with every, single time I'm going to war because I know what to expect, and you stand your ground, too, with a leader like that,” Irving said. “You don't want to take a step back. You move to the front line with a guy like that, and you want to bring your game up to another level.
“That's what I'm going to continue to do, because I know that if we continue to be with one another and keep utilizing one another, man, the sky's the limit. So, I've learned a lot and I will continue to, and I couldn't be more proud of that guy. He left it all out there on the floor, and to average a triple-double in the freaking Finals, man, add that to the LeBron long list that everyone keeps forgetting.”