The Kingsmen: Meet the role players in Cleveland stepping up around King James
From the very first game, the NBA Finals have been an uphill battle for the Cleveland Cavaliers and their centrepiece LeBron James. While the Cavs made short work of the relatively easier Eastern Conference, they have been facing an army of unstoppable talent in the Golden State Warriors in these Finals. Added to their woes have been the team’s injury struggles: the Cavaliers lost Kevin Love after the First Round of the playoffs, and the already hobbled Kyrie Irving saw his season come to an end at the end of Finals’ Game 1.
So, ‘King James’ stands nearly alone. While the Warriors fire from all cylinders, the mammoth task of keeping the Cavs competitive in the Finals has fallen heavily on LeBron’s shoulders. Playing almost every position on the floor and having his hands over all of the Cavaliers’ activity on both ends, LeBron has been phenomenal. He’s currently averaging 36.6 points, 12.4 rebounds, and 8.8 assists per game in the Finals and already has two triple-doubles in the series to go with three 40-point games. The Warriors lead the series 3-2, but LeBron has been so good that he has to be considered for the Finals MVP award even in a loss.
However, as good as he’s been, LeBron has needed his underrated teammates to step up to the plate and play their role in Cleveland’s fight-back. The Cavaliers have indeed managed to win two games against the mighty Warriors and could force a Game 7 if they win tomorrow. Here are the ‘Kingsmen’ who have surrounded him in this injury-riddled playoffs campaign so far.
This little-known Australian point guard – playing only in his second NBA season – has been thrust into the spotlight during the NBA playoffs in the continued injury absence to Kyrie Irving. In two regular seasons, Dellavedova only played 19 minutes per game, averaging 4.7 ppg. His minutes and scoring output increased in this post-season, and he earned a full-time starting job from Game 2 of the Finals. Dellavedova’s defence on MVP Stephen Curry and his will to make the extra hustle play became the talk of the series after Games 2 and 3. He’s averaged 7.8 points and 7 assists in nearly 30 minutes of action per game in the Final and scored a career-best 20 points in Game 3.
Arriving in Cleveland via a mid-season trade from Denver, Mozgov has fit in perfectly as the post presence for the Cavaliers offense all season and in the playoffs. Mozgov averaged a career-best 10.6 ppg in the regular season since the move to Cleveland and continued to be a focal point in the offense in the playoffs as their second-leading scorer behind LeBron after Love and Irving got hurt. He exploded for a career-best 28 points to go with 10 rebounds in the Finals Game 4 loss, but perplexingly, the adjustment made by Golden State to go small negated him in Game 5 of the series. It will be interesting to see if he’ll have a major influence on this series again.
Shumpert was part of a midseason trade from the New York Knicks, brought to Cleveland to provide defensive support to LeBron on the perimeter. After regressing for a couple of years in New York, Shumpert found new life in a title contender and has played his role well most of the season and post-season. He’s a regular starter for Cleveland and although the numbers (9.1 ppg, 5 rpg) don’t look great, his work on the defensive end ensures that he earns a lot of minutes on court.
Mr. Smith, the enigma. JR joined Shumpert to ‘escape’ New York and land up in Cleveland in mid-season. The former 6th Man of the Year has been up to his usual unpredictable ways. When he’s good, he’s great; when he’s not, he can disappear or even harm the team. With Love and Irving out, Smith is supposed to be Cleveland’s most reliable scoring option after LeBron. He enjoyed a couple of good moments in the playoffs, like Game 1 against the Hawks and the start of Game 5 of the Finals against the Warriors. But for the Cavaliers to provide James some offensive support, Smith has to get going and become more accurate from the three-point line.
Somehow, Tristan Thompson – who is just in his fourth NBA season – finds himself as the longest-consecutively-tenured Cavalier in the team’s current rotation (consecutively is the operative word, since LeBron spent seven years in Cleveland before his four-year trip to Miami). Thompson came into the NBA as the fourth pick of the 2011 Draft and now – starting in the absence of Kevin Love – he is showing his full NBA value. A monster on the offensive glass and a hard-working defender, Thompson is only second to LeBron in rebounds per game for the team in the playoffs. He’ll continue to have to play at his absolute best and attempt to nullify his Warriors’ counterpart Draymond Green for the Cavaliers to have a chance in Game 6.