THE JAMES GANG

June 15, 2015

With his two highest-profile running buddies sidelined, LeBron has become a one-man attack for the Cavs

LeBron James's increasing burden became the Finals' top story as he carried the Cavaliers to a split in the first two games against the heavily favored Warriors. His glam lifestyle as a "Heatle" in Miami has been replaced by a grueling one after season-ending injuries to teammates Kevin Love in the first round of the playoffs and Kyrie Irving in overtime of the Finals' Game 1. James has become the proverbial straw-bearing camel, with fans and foes alike wondering what it would take to break his back.

James has consistently ranked among the league leaders in usage rate, which measures a player's offensive responsibility by boiling down his shot attempts, free throw attempts, assists and turnovers into a single number. During the postseason James's usage rate has taken off like a hot stock, rising from 31.8 against the Celtics to 38.4 against the Bulls to 39.6 against the Hawks, according to basketball-reference.com.

Never had James carried such a heavy postseason load—not even during his first trip to the Finals, with Cleveland in 2007, when his primary sidekicks were Drew Gooden and Larry Hughes. And yet the upward trend has only continued: James had an astonishing 43.3 usage rate in Games 1 and 2 against Golden State. The loss of Irving has forced James to fire without remorse. After jacking up a career-high 38 shots in a 108--100 loss in Game 1, James joked that he might have to launch "58 of them thangs" before the series was out. He hoisted 34 more in Game 2, a 95--93 OT win in which he scored or assisted on 22 of Cleveland's 29 field goals.

Cleveland's strong collective defensive play throughout the playoffs has understandably been overshadowed by James's offensive display, which has mixed Herculean determination with MacGyver-like resourcefulness. He has two triple doubles (37 points, 18 rebounds, 13 assists against Atlanta in Game 3 and 39 points, 16 rebounds and 11 assists against Golden State in Game 2) that haven't been matched in the postseason since at least 1985. That's right: Twice in a four-game stretch he did something that hadn't been done in 30 years.

USE IT OR LOSE IT

James is on pace for the highest usage rate in Finals history*. Surprisingly, teams that have relied heavily on one player have had success.

*Data not available before 1985

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)