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LeBron James is the NBA anti-hero

(Getty Images)
"I feel confident because I'm the best player in the world, it's simple. It's the Finals. It's something you dream of when you were a kid. And for me, I put the work in...every single day..."-LeBron James
The Cleveland Cavaliers have their backs against the wall as they enter Game 6 of the NBA Finals at Quicken Loans Arena. In the Finals first elimination game, they either win, or go home.

This is a team that, on paper (and really, every other way), remain major underdogs.

We all know the deal with regards to the Cavs. In a nutshell, they are beat up, undermanned and fatigued. They've lost two games in a row after being up 2-1, and honestly don't seem to have any consistent offensive options outside of one LeBron James. In reality, how they were up 2-1 remains a mystery to those that struggle looking past the numbers...heading into this series.

LeBron and his Cavs have taken this underdog thing to a whole new level.

The question hanging in the air is clear; "Can the Cavaliers figure out a way to beat Golden State and extend the series to seven games, where anything can happen?"

The answer to that question is, like the Cavs playoff run, complicated.

I've watched a lot of sports since listening to the '76 Miracle of Richfield Cavaliers make it to the Eastern Conference Finals, before losing to the eventual NBA champion Boston Celtics in six games. Jim Chones had broken his foot in practice prior to that final series, which likely eliminated any chance of beating the John Havlicek led Celtics.

My point though, isn't to compare this Cavaliers team to that one, just to note the bookends of my NBA fandom.

I've seen a lot of basketball, and if one were to take the "Cleveland" out of this year's NBA Finals, my answer to the "Can the Cavs win" question would be simple.

I would say no, even though they are playing in the friendly confines of The Q.

The momentum is on the side of Golden State, and thanks to the Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving injuries, the overall talent on either side isn't even close. Golden State has a bunch of it, and an attitude that, while annoying, certainly matches their bravado.

When you stir in a little Steve Kerr into the mix, you have a team that knows they are going to win.

So when fellow EHC Founding Editor Steve Orbanek asked me right after Game 5, what I thought was going to happen in Game 6, I was blatantly honest: "The Warriors are going to win in a landslide."

In truth, part of that answer was buried in my Cleveland roots. It's hard not to fall into the "woe is me, we're always going to lose" mentality that I truthfully can't stand. Unfortunately, it's ingrained into all of our existences.

Cleveland hasn't won a meaningful title since 1964.

It's just part of who we are.

But there's another part of that that stems from watching series-after-series over the years when you see an overmatched team steal a win or two, then ultimately succumb to the numbers. An hour after Game 5, that's where I was. I was pissed off that Cleveland had their backs against the wall, and sure that the Warriors, a better team on paper, had finally found the mix.

Then I watched LeBron James interview:



If you just listened to that video, watch it.

LeBron James has that look on his face. You and I both know what that look means: LeBron is pissed, he's irritated that Stephen Curry is being mentioned in the same breath, he's frustrated because his team is excessively undermanned, and regardless of his unbelievable performance, the Warriors have run away with the past two basketball games.

It's not a look you want to see if you play for Golden State, and truth be told, not a look that I'm used to seeing from James in his first tenure with the Cavs.

It's a look he learned in Miami.

So instead of looking at this game using my brain, I'm going into Game 6 like I would any Summer/Action blockbuster movie. It's time I suspend my disbelief for a moment, because the one thing I've learned about this new LeBron, it's that anything can happen.

While my mind tells me that the Cavs are done, I have to take note of a couple of things: they should have been done when they lost Kevin Love for the duration of the playoffs when Kelly Olynyk ripped his shoulder out of his socket. Their season should have been over quickly when Kyrie Irving broke his knee cap.

In both instances, like a Hollywood production, the Cavs continued to win. Since Love's injury, the Cavs have won two series, against the hated Bulls and Danny Ferry-created Atlanta Hawks. Some of that run was with a banged up Kyrie Irving, who played sparingly with a bum ankle and knee. Since Irving's final injury, the Cavs have won two games in the finals, and could have been up 3-0 with a bit more arch on an Iman Shumpert's jumper.

This team has no business being involved in this series in any meaningful way, yet here we are. The Cavs are still in this, down 3-2, at home, in Cleveland.

Somehow, this city (and really country) that vilified James nearly five years ago has "re-loved" him, and Snidely Whiplash has turned himself into a Face, after spending his Miami Heat title run as the Association's top Heel.

LeBron has lifted up the Cleveland Cavaliers (and Cleveland as a whole) onto his back and has gone about his business like he truly believes he can bring a title home to Cleveland all by himself.

Who are we kidding.

He can.

Somehow Goliath, has turned himself into David.

LeBron didn't win the MVP, Steph Curry did. LeBron doesn't have a single solitary offensive weapon to share the burden with Love and Irving gone, while Golden State seems to have a clown car full of options.

Yet, LeBron continues to find his way, as though he were a magician with an infinite bag of tricks. If he didn't get tired, the series may already be over, but that's where the suspension of disbelief should end, right?

But LeBron...keeps finding a way.

When Andre Iguodala is guarding LeBron, his isos turn into step away jumpers, or threes. When Draymond Green guards him, he often drives around or through him, straight to the hoop. When Klay Thompson or Shaun Livingston D him up, he backs his way into the paints for an easy layup or even a Magic-like jump hook, and when it's all clicking, he's bound to do it all, with the unknown being that he's still not afraid to search for the hot hand, even when there isn't one.

In Game 3, when Matthew Dellavedova was scorching hot, James fed him more. In Game 4, when Timofey Mozgov was making mincemeat of the Warriors defense in a game where every other Cavalier was borderline exhausted, James fed him more. In Game 5, when J.R. Smith finally found his rhythm early in the game, James made sure to get him the ball, and the same with Iman Shumpert.

James is feeding the beast, but unfortunately, the beast often lacks the teeth to put away its prey.

Curry, on the other hand, is able to lurk while others continually pick up the slack. Like Agent Smith in the Matrix, whenever a Warriors' player struggles, another steps up to take his spot.

Golden State is an amazing basketball team to begin with, and against a team that only has six legitimate players in the rotation (with James Jones filling in as much as possible), it's almost impossible to believe that we're still talking the possibility of a Game 7.

But we are.

Hell, if you want to take this a step further, there likely isn't a more fun player to watch in the league than Curry and his amazing, behind-the-arc offense. He single-handedly made Chris Paul look like he was 40-years old and ready for retirement. His scintillating ball-handling skills, and his innate likability have made this season a joy, beyond watching LeBron return to Cleveland to front his hometown squad again.

But somehow, watching him gnaw on that mouthpiece game-after-game has become the equivalent of peeling back fingernails. Every little thing this Golden State Warriors team does on the court or off, that doesn't resemble 'just playing basketball,' makes me hurl profanities. In essence, the Cavs are more like my kids playing little league, and I'm the worst little league parent on the planet.

I hate the Golden State Warriors.

There really isn't any good reason, other than they're playing against my favorite basketball team. But the Kerr-led Warriors are as silky smooth as you can get, and in a bubble, kind of fun to watch. They play team basketball, hit a bevy of shots, hustle on defense, and just do things the right way.

But, LeBron's one-man crusade has transformed the Golden State Warriors into the worst common denominator for me.

Essentially what we have here is LeBron rolling out his best John McClane impression, while Steph Curry has taken over the role of Hans Gruber, with his Golden State terrorists trying to take over the NBA Finals.

Everyone loves the underdog anti-hero, like McClane in Die Hard, and that's exactly what LeBron has morphed into. With Kyrie and KLove, Lebron reformed a new "Big 3," but still never managed to turn into the Evil Empire like with the Miami Heat. Perhaps it's the way LeBron returned, or perhaps it's the simply fact that Cleveland never wins a thing, but WITH Love and Irving, this team carried that underdog, us-against-the-West mentality.

Without Kyrie and Love, that magnified ten-fold. It really is LeBron against the world, and in that interview, you can see it all simply by taking a look at that expression on his face.

So to bring this full circle, when you ask me the question, "Can the Cavs win Game 6 of the NBA Finals, and extend this series to a Game 7," I can't help but think one thing...

Yippee Ki Yay....

and I think you can fill in the rest.

Don't forget to read Nino Colla's piece looking at a summary of the MLB Season up to this point, and how your Cleveland Indians are still in it, despite remaining in last place.
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