CLEVELAND – Is it over?
If Friday’s 108-85 Game 4 loss punctuated LeBron James’ second stint in Cleveland, what an ugly way to end it. No team has come back from down 3-0 to win an NBA playoff series, much less one against the league’s Voltron, the Golden State Warriors, and the Cavaliers didn’t seem all that interested in being the first in the NBA Finals. A nip-and-tuck first half gave way to a second-half laugher, highlighted by many of the problems that defined the Cavs’ season: poor defense, inconsistent shooting and questionable effort.
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The (announced) crowd of 20,562 — announced, because sections of Quicken Loans Arena were sprinkled with empty seats — was into it early, started booing after halftime and headed to the exits midway through the fourth. When James checked out with 4:03 to play, a half-hearted MVP chant started, only to quickly peter out.
Is it over? Ty Lue wasn’t ready to engage questions about James’ pending free agency. “I hope he stays,” the Cavs coach said. “I mean, we all know that. But after a game like that, I’m not in any position to talk about that.” They say the presidency ages a person more than any other job. Cavs coach is a close second. Lue is 41, and probably tacked 10 more years on his body this season. He lost Kyrie Irving in August, saw the front office overhaul the roster midseason and slogged through more mind-numbing drama than a CW series. He took two weeks off for health reasons and before the Finals revealed he’s being treated for anxiety.
“I probably could have folded myself,” Lue said. “But I wasn’t going to do that.”
Is it over? James’ teammates don’t know. “I’d love to play with LeBron for the rest of my career,” Kevin Love said. “But that’s going to be a choice that he makes.” Privately, some have expressed optimism that James will return, but there is no certainty. The Cavs’ locker room had a funereal feel Friday, with James slumped in his corner locker, ice bags on both knees, his right hand tightly wrapped. James revealed he injured his hand after Game 1 — he reportedly punched a display board in the Cavs’ locker room — and “pretty much played the last three games with a broken hand,” he said. Around James, players dressed quickly, eager to start to put this four-game pasting behind them.
Is it over? James professed not to know. “I have no idea at this point,” James said. In the last few days, James has dropped breadcrumbs about his future. He lamented the talent gap that exists between Golden State and Cleveland, and acknowledged that it will take a superteam to unseat the one in Oakland. Peppered with questions about his future plans Friday, James noted that when he left in 2010, he did it to play with superior talent — and craves playing with those type of players again.
“When you feel like you’re really good at your craft, I think it’s always great to be able to be around other great minds as well and other great ballplayers, in my instance, and other great, just, I think, studies of the game itself,” James said.
So … is it over? James made it clear that his family will play a bigger role in his decision-making than ever before.
“The one thing that I’ve always done is considered, obviously, my family,” James said. “Understanding especially where my boys are at this point in their age. They were a lot younger the last time I made a decision like this four years ago. I’ve got a teenage boy, a pre-teen and a little girl that wasn’t around as well. So sitting down and considering everything, my family is a huge part of whatever I’ll decide to do in my career, and it will continue to be that.”
When James came back to Cleveland, he declared he had unfinished business, vowing to deliver the city a championship. Does the 2016 title make it easier for him to walk away again?
“I mean, for me, I still have so much to give to the game,” James said, deflecting the question. “Like I said, when you have a goal and you’re able to accomplish that goal, for me personally, it made me even more hungry to continue to try to win championships, and I still want to be in championship mode. I think I’ve shown this year why I will still continue to be in championship mode.
“To be able to be a part of a championship team two years ago with the team that we had and in the fashion that we had is something I will always remember. Honestly, I think we’ll all remember that. It ended a drought for Cleveland of 50-plus years, so I think we’ll all remember that in sports history.”
Indeed. James has long been championship-driven. He left Cleveland in 2010 for a more talented team in Miami, and returned to play with what looked like a team set up to win titles for years to come. It stands to reason that this summer James will make a similar decision. That could mean Houston, which will recruit him hard with Chris Paul, one of James’ closest friends. It could mean the Los Angeles Lakers, who are set up cap-wise to bring on James and a star of his choosing. It could mean Philadelphia, where the Sixers have a dominant big man in Joel Embiid and a budding superstar in Ben Simmons, with whom James shares an agent. He has options, and all of them are good ones.
Is it over? It certainly felt like the end of an era on Friday night. In a few weeks, we’ll find out.
More NBA Finals coverage from Yahoo Sports:
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• Warriors complete sweep to win championship
• NBA players are already recruiting LeBron
• LeBron: ‘I pretty much played the last 3 games with a broken hand’