Jae Crowder isn’t a “LeBron stopper” because nobody is a LeBron stopper. Not P.J. Tucker the last series, nor Paul George the round before. Not Andre Iguodala last year, or Kawhi Leonard as a Finals MVP a couple seasons before that, or anyone else you can imagine.
It was easy to imagine why Crowder could be considered someone who could reasonably defend LeBron James — not stopping him, but maybe slowing him down, even if only a little. After all, Crowder is a beefy 6’6, 235 pounds known for his defensive chops and physical enough to deal with ball handling forwards.
As it turns out, Crowder is somehow both too slow and too small for LeBron James. If there was any doubt, the Cavaliers clobbering Boston in Game 1 by a 117-104 margin on Wednesday made that clear. James finished with 38 points on 14-of-24 shooting with nine rebounds and seven assists, getting into the paint at will.
Yeah, no. It’s time to retire “LeBron stopper” phrase, because it’s obsolete.
You can bother James, sure. He infamously shrunk in the 2011 NBA Finals against the Mavericks, playing a weirdly passive game against a smart zone defense and one of the best “LeBron stoppers” to ever exist, Shawn Marion. But c’mon, even Mavericks fans know Marion wasn’t the main reason that LeBron was “stopped” that series. (He still averaged 18 points on 48 percent shooting.)
Likewise, in the 2013 Finals, the Spurs dared James to shoot … so he did, and he beat them. In 2014, even as Leonard won Finals MVP for his two-way play, James averaged 28 points on 57 percent shooting. In 2015, he was even better in a loss, and in 2016 he won Cleveland its first championship by scoring 41 points consecutively and finishing it off with a Game 7 triple-double.
Without getting too far away from Game 1, the point is that the collection of Crowder, Bradley and Brown isn’t going to be enough to stop James, because we really have never seen him convincingly stopped. James is too strong for guards and too quick for guards, too savvy for traps and too smart for switches. It feels like he has mastered his craft — taking advantage of any defense you try to play against him — more than even a few seasons ago, when he was winning consecutive MVPs.
In Game 1, Boston came in with the idea that they weren’t going to let Cleveland shooters light them up. They didn’t — the Cavaliers only hit 11 threes on 31 attempts as the Celtics hugged Kyle Korver and Kevin Love. The result was an occasional possession where Kelly Olynyk was responsible for checking James off a switch.
It was basketball gore.
No one on the Celtics can stop James, and the rest of the series seems likely to look somewhat similar to this Game 1 blowout. (I think Boston will win a game at some point, but that doesn’t mean this series will ever be in doubt.) If it’s any consolation for Boston, they’re far from being the first team victimized by LeBron James.