LeBron James insisted that the Cavaliers’ showdown in Boston on Wednesday was just another game, but what was James like in the locker room before tip-off, especially considering that the game – which Cleveland won 114-91 – would likely determine home-court advantage in the playoffs?
“He was calm,” Cavs small forward Richard Jefferson said on CBS Sports Radio’s The Doug Gottlieb Show. “If we were trying to prove a point, we wouldn’t have lost all those damn games in March, I’ll tell you that for sure. We had just been through a tough stretch. I don’t think it should be any surprise that us playing well has coincided with the three-game home-stand. We went from Cleveland to L.A. to Denver to Charlotte, back to Cleveland (to) San Antonio, then up to Chicago, then back to Cleveland. That’s a really, really tough stretch, and we did not handle it well.”
After a 40-16 start, the Cavs went 7-11 over their next 18 games. They have since won four straight, as Kevin Love and J.R. Smith are working back into the mix.
“We’ve been navigating a lot, and we haven’t handled it well,” Jefferson said. “Obviously there’s a lot of frustration, but it wasn’t because everybody isn’t locked in (or) everybody’s not playing hard. Everyone is still just trying to navigate things before the playoffs.”
With the win in Boston, the Cavs (51-27) have a one-game lead over the Celtics (50-28) with four games to go.
“I think it was just another game, but there was something within that game that you wanted to accomplish,” Jefferson said. “I think this is definitely the most talented team that I’ve ever been on, the most versatile team that I’ve ever been on. I feel like our team is very, very unique.”
James, of course, is the reason Jefferson can say that. The four-time MVP leads the Cavs in points (26.3), assists (8.7) and steals (1.2) and is averaging 8.5 rebounds. Still, he’s caught heat for missing a handful of games this year. Some critics say this proves that James is no Michael Jordan, who played in 80+ games 11 times in his career, including 82 games nine times.
Jefferson isn’t so sure about that argument.
“We all sit around and say Jordan was the greatest ever, but Jordan also took a year-and-a-half off in the middle of his career to go play baseball,” he said. “Jordan also had an injury with a broken foot that allowed him to rest his body early on in his career. So to try to compare things to Jordan is very, very tough. You can say whatever you want about the regular season and about people trying to get rest, but Kobe Bryant, who’s one of the great, great players of all time, if you look at his minutes before he tore his Achilles, the five or six games prior to that, go look at that and you tell me anything about rest.”
Bryant averaged 45.6 minutes per game in his seven previous games, including the game in which he was injured. He played 41+ minutes in all seven and 47+ minutes in four of them.
Perhaps Gregg Popovich was on to something.
“People should copy the Spurs, the team that has 20 straight 50-win seasons and five NBA championships,” Jefferson said. “You should copy them. You should try to emulate what they’ve done because they are the most successful franchise in the last 25 years. So yeah, if Pop is doing something, it’s probably going to be duplicated, and truth be told, it’s probably the right thing to do.”