The deck had never been stacked against LeBron James quite like it was heading into Game 7 on Sunday night.
His Cavaliers had experienced so many traumatic moments this season it was hard to narrow down a top-10.
At any given time, it was a struggle to recall the fallout from the previous week because there’d been so much carnage since.
And that level of chaos has been unfolding in Cleveland since the preseason, when the Cavs traded transcendent co-star Kyrie Irving for damaged goods and spare parts.
Then there was the failed Derrick Rose experiment, Isiah Thomas stirring the pot, Dwyane Wade showing up out of shape, Kevin Love breaking his hand, Ty Lue taking leave for health reasons, and GM Koby Altman trading almost half the team mid-season.
The Cavs were so chaotic and dysfunctional they were making the Sacramento Kings jealous.
If there was ever a team which had no business making the NBA Finals, it was the 2017-18 Cleveland Cavaliers.
While they progressed through the first two rounds of the playoffs, with complements from the Toronto Raptors, basic logic suggested their conference finals matchup with Boston would be the end of the line.
The Celtics were more talented. They were smarter. They had the better coach. They were more sophisticated on offence and they were lightyears ahead on defence.
(I say ‘were’ because the Celtics are dead. At least for now. LeBron killed them all. And none more brutally than Terry Rozier).
When you threw in the fact Boston had home court, it seemed that for Cleveland, even having LeBron wouldn’t matter.
But how could any of us have truly believed that?
How could any sensible person not have realised that the true laws of Eastern Conference basketball suggested quite the opposite: having LeBron always matters.
Here’s what didn’t matter:
It didn’t matter that Boston won the first two games.
It didn’t matter that they were a better team all season.
It didn’t matter that Game 7 was in Boston.
And it didn’t matter that Kevin Love was in a suit for the decider.
Everything working against James only fuelled him to take it to yet another level.
And when he does that, there’s nothing anyone can do.
It’s always going to be hard for LeBron to match his 3-1 Finals comeback in 2016 against the greatest team of the decade.
But if making the Finals with this group doesn’t top that, it certainly ranks as his second-greatest achievement.
He’s never had less help, he’s never faced more adversity in one season, and he’s 33 freaking years old.
Sure, it wasn’t the Warriors he just defeated.
But he doesn’t have Kyrie Irving now, and lately, hasn’t had Kevin Love either.
And yet, here he is, just days away from his eighth consecutive Finals.
LeBron has matched his age with points per game these playoffs (33.9), the highest he’s managed in the postseason outside of 2008-09.
His 8.8 assists are a personal postseason record. And he upped it to 35 points, 15 rebounds and 9 assists for Game 7 on Sunday.
Continuing to raise the bar at this stage in his career simply shouldn’t be possible.
A lot of guys are well and truly retired before they reach this stage in their career.
Tracy McGrady was past his prime at age 29. So was Gilbert Arenas. So were a lot of guys.
Dominating after 15 years in the league would be a dream scenario for most players.
But LeBron doesn’t have to dream it, because it’s his reality.
Our reality is that every single June, we get to watch LeBron James play basketball.
And this year, it took one of his greatest sustained performances to get there.
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