James could be Finals MVP from losing side

LeBron James is counting on home support and his talents to fend off the Golden State Warriors in Game 6 and tie the series at 3-3.
LeBron James is counting on home support and his talents to fend off the Golden State Warriors in Game 6 and tie the series at 3-3.PHOTO: AFP

He has been a phenomenal one-man show, carrying the injury-hit Cavs

NEARLY 20,000 fans packed Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland for Game 5 of the National Basketball Association Finals, even though there was not a single player from either team on the court.

The Cavaliers were playing the Golden State Warriors more than 4,000km away in Oakland, California, as Cleveland fans watched their team lose the most pivotal game yet, 91-104, on the Jumbotron screens above the empty basketball court.

Their loss gave the Warriors a daunting 3-2 lead in the series, meaning they can clinch the title by winning Game 6 this morning (Singapore time).

DREAM'S NOT OVER

We're going home with a Game 6, we got enough to win it. We protect home... then we force a Game 7.

- Cleveland star LeBron James

However, no one could ignore another heroic effort by hometown hero LeBron James.

His 40-point, 14-rebound, 11-assist triple double in Game 5 was his second at these Finals, and it is generating talk that he could become the first player since Jerry West in 1969 to be selected as the Finals' Most Valuable Player from the losing team.

It was especially disappointing for Cleveland fans, as a smooth three-pointer by James gave the Cavaliers an 80-79 lead in the fourth quarter, before the Warriors took command.

Yet, if the Cavs do lose the Finals, it is hard to overlook the decisive contributions of Golden State's golden boy Stephen Curry.

He finally lived up to his regular-season MVP award in Game 5, scoring 37 points after struggling in at least three of the first four games.

His numbers are still far behind those of James, though.

Curry has averaged 26.2 points per game to 36.6 for James, and 5.0 to 12.4 in rebounds per game and 5.8 to 8.8 in assists per game, compared to James.

Indeed, the Cavaliers' superstar has almost single-handedly carried a team decimated by injuries to the sixth game of the Finals.

And he is still vowing to guide Cleveland to the seventh game - and a title for a city whose professional sports teams have not won a national title since 1964.

"We're going home with a Game 6, we got enough to win it," he said at a press conference in Oakland after the Game 5 loss.

"We protect home... then we force a Game 7."

Then, without blinking or sounding the least bit arrogant, James added: "I feel confident because I'm the best player in the world. It's that simple."

Actually, it will not be easy though for Cleveland. Historically, teams up 3-2 in a Finals have gone on to win the title 20 of 28 times - even with some of the game's most legendary players.

For the Warriors, a title would be their first since 1975.

However, Oakland's professional baseball and football teams, unlike Cleveland's, have won championships in the interim.

Yet, while many are banking on the Warriors to finish off the Cavaliers back on their home court in a Game 7 if not in Cleveland today, few had predicted James would take his team even this far in the play-offs, let alone the Finals.

And if he lives up to his own prediction with such a crippled side against the perfectly healthy Warriors, he will certainly seal his place in NBA history.

zach@sph.com.sg

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 17, 2015, with the headline 'James could be Finals MVP from losing side'. Print Edition | Subscribe