Thomsen: James Is MJ 2.0; Toronto In Trouble

LeBron is playing at a historic pace, while the Raptors look like the Ruth-cursed Red Sox

Taz and the Moose
May 02, 2018 - 9:48 am

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After a grueling seven-game series against Indiana – during which LeBron James averaged 34.4 points, 10.0 rebounds and 7.7 assists in 41.1 minutes per game – the Cleveland Cavaliers weren’t expected to have much left in the tank against Toronto, at least not in Game 1. 

Well, despite not leading for a single second in regulation, the Cavs emerged with a win Tuesday night, beating the Raptors, 113-112, in overtime. James wasn’t great – he shot 12-of-30 from the floor, 1-of-8 from three, and 1-of-6 from the foul line – but still finished with a triple-double. He had 26 points, 13 assists, and 11 rebounds in a season-high 47 minutes.

Can James maintain this pace throughout the series?

Ian Thomsen, the author of “The Soul of Basketball: The Epic Showdown Between LeBron, Kobe, Doc, and Dirk That Saved the NBA,” says yes.

“I do, I do,” he said on Taz & The Moose. “Look, the book is about that 2010-11 season when he was known for wilting under pressure, and he learned how to become a champion at that time. Now I look at him as one of the three greatest players of all time: Bill Russell, Michael Jordan and LeBron James. If Michael Jordan was in this position, I think we’d all be saying, ‘Yeah, Michael can pull this off.’ I think LeBron is like a 2.0 version of Michael because he’s got all the playmaking skills that Michael didn’t have as much of.”

James averaged 41.8 points in Cleveland’s four first-round wins against Indiana. He didn’t come close to that in Game 1 against Toronto, but his teammates stepped up. J.R. Smith and Kyle Korver each drilled five threes, finishing with 20 and 19 points, respectively, while Jeff Green (16) and Tristan Thompson (14) combined for 30 points off the bench.

“Last night, you saw the other guys on the team come around and almost not wanting to let LeBron down,” Thomsen said. “I think that’s where they are now. When he’s been out of the game, they’ve played well – and I think that shows him he can depend on them more and more.”

The Raptors, meanwhile, must regroup in a hurry. They won an East-leading 59 games this season but are 2-9 against the Cavs in the postseason since 2016. Toronto led by 10 in the fourth quarter but shot 5-of-24 in the final frame and missed its final 11 shots in regulation.

“It’s like watching the Red Sox before they finally broke through,” Thomsen said. “They just can’t convince themselves that they can do this. If they win, it’s going to be a really agonizing series for Toronto to get processed through all the psychological stuff they have to get through in order to beat LeBron.”

Game 2 is Thursday in Toronto at 6 p.m. ET.