Dribbles: For the 10th time, yes, LeBron has reached the Finals
Random dribbles following the Los Angeles' Lakers 117-107 win over the Denver Nuggets in Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals on Saturday.
1. For the ninth time in 10 years, LeBron James is headed to the NBA Finals. And on this night, he had a whole heck of a lot to do with that. Always does, actually.
2. James has done it on three different teams, in three different regions -- Midwest, South, Midwest again, and now the West Coast.
3. He has done it in both the Eastern and Western conferences. He has done it at 22 years old, and now again at the age of 35. Overall, this is his 10th appearance in the Finals, becoming just the fourth player in league history to hit double digits.
4. Yes, I realize this run to the Finals is a lot different than seasons past. This postseason is taking place inside the Disney bubble, with no one being afforded any sort of home-court advantage. Circumstances have made it all feel strange.
5. Some people are even saying this season warrants an "asterisk," and I may not entirely disagree with them. But here is one thing that still cannot be denied -- when it comes to winning time, no one in the past 17 years has delivered like LeBron.
6. I would even say no one in the past 17 years has dominated their sport like LeBron has in the NBA. Can you name anyone who has come close? Tiger Woods? Maybe. Tom Brady? Maybe. But I doubt it.
7. But no matter how you spin it ... no matter if you like LeBron's constant switching of teams ... or what some might insist is his a passive-aggressive pressuring of front offices ... or the way his team always somehow ends up with a second (and often third) star ... none of this happens without LeBron.
8. In short, if you put talent around James, he will win, win a lot, win big. How many other stars can make that claim? How many other teams have tried to stack the deck, and because they didn't have LeBron, still couldn't get it done?
9. If you're talking basketball, how the game is played, how hard it is to get to the top and stay there ... well, we are witnessing greatness. The kind of greatness that doesn't come along all that often. LeBron is just better than everyone else, and has been for quite some time. Unlike many other of today's greats, he has staying power.
10. As for this particular game, LeBron was perhaps better than he was at any other time this season. He finished with 38 points, 16 rebounds and 10 assists on the biggest night of the year.
11. Take a second and mull over those numbers. Now take a second to realize they only tell part of the story. The Nuggets are a tireless, determined team. But as good as James was in the first three quarters, he saved his best for the last. He closed it out.
12. James on the state of things: "For us as a franchise, I'm extremely proud to be a part of this franchise getting back to where it belongs and that's playing for championships and competing for championships, representing the Western Conference this year in the championships. So, this is what I came here for."
13. Lakers coach Frank Vogel: "I don't know if I've ever witnessed a guy take over a game the way he did in the fourth quarter tonight in person."
14. Anthony Davis added 27 points, proving to be the ultimate co-star in his first season with the Lakers. LeBron carries enough weight in this league to get the teammates he wants, and he undoubtedly played a role in Davis arriving in LA.
15. But that's almost beside the point, because without LeBron, the Lakers don't reach their first Finals in a decade. They may not have gotten out of the first round.
16. Meanwhile, Nikola Jokic and Jerami Grant each scored 20 for the Nuggets, and Jamal Murray had 19. It was a valiant, inspiring effort by the Nuggets. Their biggest issue was they don't have LeBron and the other guys do.
17. Nuggets coach Michael Malone: "We were playing against a guy who this is routine for him and so we take some solace in that. My challenge to our group is that we'll be back."
18. Malone is probably right. At some point, LeBron will finally get old, and the door will swing open for everyone else. But just not now.
19. For more on the LA and the Finals, follow excellent SI Lakers reporter Melissa Rohlin. Game 1 of the Finals, against the Miami-Boston winner, will either be Wednesday or Friday.
20. P.S. Only Bill Russell (14) and Sam Jones (11) have more appearances in the Finals than LeBron. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar also has 10.