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Cleveland Cavaliers

LeBron James is still the best team in the Eastern Conference

Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James celebrates a basket against the Indiana Pacers during the second half of Game 3 of a first-round NBA basketball playoff series, Thursday, April 20, 2017, in Indianapolis. The Cavaliers defeated the Pacers 119-114. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
AP Photo/Michael Conroy

LeBron James just reminded the world that he is still the king — nay, the King — and until he’s beaten in a series, he will remain so. He’s not just the best player in the East, he’s the best TEAM in the East. 

The dominant narrative this season for the Cleveland Cavaliers has been their defense — or lack thereof — and at the half of Thursday’s Game 3, the criticism continued about their efforts after the Indiana Pacers set a franchise record with 74 first-half points. At that moment in time, the Cavaliers’ defensive rating in the playoffs sank to 119.6, the lowest of any team.

The Cavaliers’ first-half defensive rating was a ghastly 145.7.  Their biggest deficit was 26 points. They couldn’t stop a cold, and the proverbial fat lady was doing practice bars.

Finally, LeBron James got sick of waiting for the Cavaliers to flip the stupid metaphorical switch, so he just decided to be the switch. And the second half belonged to him.

When all was said and done, LeBron James tallied 41 points, 12 assists and 13 rebounds.

Costars Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love? They did…less. A lot less. Mostly, they did the same thing I did; sit and watch LeBron take over the game. Irving played seven minutes in the second half. Love played nine.

They warmed seats for the entirety of the fourth quarter. Head coach Tyronn Lue mostly went with LeBron plus some energetic reserves, and the Cavaliers suddenly started getting stops for the second half. They were securing defensive rebounds, generating steals, getting turnovers and forcing misses.

The King did everything else.

Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James (23) celebrates a basket during the second half against the Indiana Pacers in Game 3 of a first-round NBA basketball playoff series, Thursday, April 20, 2017, in Indianapolis. The Cavaliers defeated the Pacers 119-114. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

AP Photo/Michael Conroy

In the second half alone, James scored 28 points, dished seven assists and grabbed six rebounds. And never have even such impressive box score numbers undersold a man’s impact on the game.

The Cavaliers’ offensive rating with him on the court was 153.8. The defensive rating was 79.6, giving Cleveland a net rating that was a gut-busting LOL-worthy 74.1. The Cavaliers outscored the Pacers by 30 points with LeBron on the court. His effective field goal percentage was 68.8.

Four of his assists were for 3-pointers, meaning he scored or assisted on 46 points in the second half. The Pacers as a team scored or assisted on 40. He literally beat them by himself. Well, sort of anyway. He did need his teammates to make those shots.

When it was all said and done, the Cavaliers tied the largest playoff comeback in NBA history and won the game with five points to spare. And when I say the Cavaliers, what I mean is LeBron James, because what it really comes down to is that he is still the best team in the Eastern Conference.

Give him four guys who can hit a barn with an elephant and give a lick about defending, and he can beat any team in the East, and that’s what he did.

Whether that can hold up against the Golden State Warriors (presumably) in the NBA Finals remains to be seen. But the Cavaliers will get that chance to prove it as long as LeBron is around.

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