Prior to game one between Toronto and Cleveland, Stephen A Smith said LeBron James has been the Toronto Raptors kryptonite. On First Take, Smith elaborated, saying “[t]he Toronto Raptors are the better team. From top to bottom, they are constructed better, they are made better. I am not denying that. What I am going on is when these guys have run into LeBron James, he has been there Kryptonite. That’s the issue that I think will be challenging for them.”
After their 113-112 loss in overtime to the Cavaliers, Skip Bayless chimed in as well and on Undisputed, said the Raptors are “still that team that’s psychologically devastated and owned by LeBron James. At the mere sight of the Beast of the East, they shrink.”
The former co-host are correct in their statements. Yes, Toronto hasn’t played well against James, and on Tuesday night, they wilted under the pressure. In the last four minutes of regulation and overtime, the Raptors shot 3-18, allowing James to lead a comeback and extend his playoff win streak against Toronto to seven in a row.
But what these two and many others forget is that LeBron isn’t just the Raptors kryptonite. Rather, he’s the entire Eastern Conference’s Achilles heel.
Let’s face it. This might be one of the most dysfunctional team’s that LeBron has played on. Now in its third iteration — pre-IT3, with IT3, and post-trade deadline — the Cavaliers rely solely on LeBron to create shots for his teammates, push the tempo, and facilitate nearly every basket for the team.
When James isn’t on the court, the Cavaliers look lost. During the six minutes he sat against Toronto, Cleveland couldn’t muster any offense against the Raptors. As a result of their dysfunction, James has had to play an average of 41.9 minutes per game in these playoffs.
Against Indiana in the first round, the Cavaliers struggles were the same without James on the court. So why is this considered only Toronto’s problem?
Although yes, LeBron has run into Toronto for the third year in a row, this problem is a lot larger than the Raptors. Dial the clock back a few years more, and you’ll find that there’s a reason why James has been to seven-straight NBA finals. Yes, he has been on good teams with great players. But the consistency needed to have a streak like this is uncanny.
A large reason why this is the case is because you can’t scheme for James. At 6’8 and 250 pounds, James is a freak athlete with the mind of a point guard. If you put a smaller player on him, he will back him down or shoot over him. If you put a bigger defender on him, he will blow by them, get in the lane, and either create his own shot or one for his teammate. If double teamed, he will find his open teammate with ease.
Even if he has a off-night shooting, James will find other ways to hurt you. Look for example at game one against Toronto. Despite shooting 12-of-30, James still managed a 26-13-11 triple-double and wreaked havoc against the Raptors.
A large part of the Raptors focus on James allowed JR Smith and Kyle Korver to get open and have their best games of the postseason. As a result, Smith and Korver scored 20 and 19 points amongst themselves respectfully.
Now that he is in year 15, LeBron has also seen every defense imaginable thrown at him. As one of the biggest students of the game — with one of the best basketball minds we’ve seen — LeBron has made it so opposing defenses can’t scheme to stop him.
Like Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant — two players James is compared to all the time — it’s hard to overcome generational talents. If you try to shut off one facet of their game, it will only allow them to beat you another way.
And this feeling isn’t only felt in the NBA. For how long have Sydney Crosby, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo have been unstoppable, despite whatever is thrown at them?
As James has proved over his career, it’s become nearly impossible to beat him over the course of a seven game series. Yes, as Indiana proved, you can defeat him on a night or two. But once he figures you out, it’s tough to stop the King.