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LeBron does everything for Cavs but win a championship

James falls short despite magnificent Finals performance

POSTED: Jun 17, 2015 12:02 PM ET

By Fran Blinebury

BY Fran Blinebury


Cavaliers React to Loss

David Blatt and LeBron James react to the Game 6 loss to the Warriors.

— He put the last shot up and it missed and a moment later an exhausted LeBron James was sitting on the bench watching the final seconds run off the clock as the Warriors celebrated a championship.

Sometimes, despite what our culture tells us, winning isn't the only thing.

LeBron James capped off his return to Cleveland not by winning the NBA title that he sought, but by showing what it takes to go the distance even in defeat.

There was virtually nothing more that James could have done to drag an injured, broken, worn-out Cavaliers team any farther than the 105-97 loss in Game 6 on Tuesday night.

Another near-triple-double with 32 points, 18 rebounds and nine assists. Another night of being the first, second and third areas of focus for the Golden State defense. Another game of having to bear up under an unrealistic burden.

Forward Kevin Love was lost to a shoulder injury in the first round of the playoffs. Point guard Kyrie Irving went down with a fractured kneecap in Game 1 of The Finals. In December, center Anderson Varejao tore his Achilles tendon.

LeBron James' Game 6 Highlights

Highlights of LeBron James during Game 6 of the NBA Finals.

Yet somehow, some way, James kept pushing and prodding what was left of the Cavs roster and even got them to a point with a 2-1 lead midway through this series when people began to believe if really could happen.

His sheer production and his raw numbers were astounding. James averaged 35.8 points, 13.3 rebounds and 8.8 assists while playing a debilitating 45.8 minutes per game.

He is big and he is strong, but there are limits to even how much the strongest can lift. And yet he kept believing up to a point.

"Yeah, when the numbers went to zero and we lost tonight," James said. "That's when I doubted. That's when it was over.

"I mean, I obviously knew it was going to be a tough task, and I continued to tell you guys we were undermanned. I don't know any other team — and I've been watching basketball for a long time; I'm a historian of the game — that's gotten to The Finals without two All-Stars. I cannot even remember thinking of it. I don't know if it's ever happened."

James kept selling the "next man up" mantra to his teammates and to a city that's been starved for a championship since 1964, even though he knew inside that the odds were stacked against him.

You've got to have a little luck. And we were playing great, but we had no luck and we weren't healthy.

– LeBron James

"Losing Andy, one of the heartbeats of our team, another playmaker for our team," he said. "Then you lose Kev, an All-Star, and the you lose Kyrie, another All-Star.

"Tried as much as we could to make up for those guys, but that's a lot of talent sitting in suits. I've had a lot of playoff runs, been on both ends, and I know one thing, that you've got to be healthy. You've also got to be playing great at the right time. You've got to have a little luck. And we were playing great, but we had no luck and we weren't healthy."

As a result, the best player of his era is 2-4 in trips to The Finals, creeping into the shadow of the NBA Hall of Famer, legend and league icon Jerry West, who lost to the Boston Celtics eight times in The Finals and in 1969 became the only player in history to be named Finals MVP from the losing team. James was in the running for the honors this time before the Warriors Andre Iguodala took the award. Coincidentally, West is now an executive consultant for the Warriors.

James became a volume shooter in the series, 13-for-33 in the closer, because he had to be. He dominated the ball with his dribble, because it was necessary. It was an uncomfortable fit and uncomfortable style for a player who likes to play the right way.

LeBron's Playoff Milestone

LeBron James becomes the sixth player in NBA history to surpass 5,000 career playoff points.

"Well, I enjoy the competition," James said. "Whatever it takes throughout the competition, I'm fine with. I don't enjoy being as non-efficient as I was. I don't enjoy that. I don't enjoy dribbling the ball for countless seconds on the shot clock and the team looking at me to make a play."

As he crossed the threshold of his 30th birthday, it becomes more of a physical grind, takes a real toll. He's got to start evaluating the sacrifice it takes.

"Of course, I question it, especially when you get to this point," James said. "I always look at it, would I rather not make the playoffs or lose The Finals? I've missed the playoffs twice. I lost in The Finals four times. I'm almost like I'd rather not even make the playoffs than to lose in The Finals. It would hurt a lot easier.

"But then I look back in and I start thinking about how much fun it is to compete during the playoffs. ... If I'm lucky enough to get here again, it will be fun to do it.

"All four of them are disappointing. It's not one higher or lower or in the middle. You don't win, it's disappointing. ... Doesn't matter if I'm playing in Miami or playing in Cleveland or playing on Mars. You lose The Finals, it's disappointing."

Fran Blinebury has covered the NBA since 1977. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.

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