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In 2015, with backs to the wall and 1.5 seconds left on the clock, LeBron hit a buzzer-beating baseline jumper to give the Cavaliers another playoff win. It was Game 4 of their second-round series against the Chicago Bulls and, from here, the Cavs won their next six games in a row, steamrolling the Bulls and then sweeping the Hawks on their way to the NBA Finals.
The shot LeBron hit, came on an out-of-bounds play but it’s representative of how small a window of time he needs to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, to change the path of history. And it’s indicative of just how immense the narrative spider web of LeBron is, of just how many incredible players have been caught in the web of his own epic journey of the past 17 seasons — the defender tasked with smothering LeBron on that final possession, the one who came up just short in his attempt to block the shot, was Jimmy Butler.
As antagonists, Butler and his Heat seem like relatively new characters in this story. There is the obvious connection of LeBron having played, and won championships, for the Heat. But Butler and LeBron have already played 11 playoff games against each other. In those series, Butler was part of the supporting cast for the Rose-Noah Bulls, but now he’s coming to take his own shot at The King.
Everything can be traced back to LeBron
Think about those Bulls teams and just how many challengers have melted before LeBron over the years. The Hibbert-George Pacers. The Dwight Howard Magic. The Lowry-DeRozan Raptors. The egalitarian Hawks. I mean, there was a time when one of LeBron’s chief rivals was the Caron Butler-Antawn Jamison-Gilbert Arenas Wizards, headlined by a personal beef with DeShawn Stevenson. LeBron is still competing for championships while his arch-nemeses settle into cushy television gigs. And it’s not just the number of opponents he’s bested, it’s the way his longevity has allowed them to adapt and change and cycle back for another chance.
That 2015 series was the last time LeBron and Butler met in the playoffs. Butler has gone from rising star to veteran leader in the ensuing half-decade, evolving through a half-dozen other basketball lives. He may take primary defensive responsibility for LeBron, as he did in 2015, but he’ll share that responsibility with Jae Crowder and Andre Iguodala.
Crowder has an 1-8 career postseason record against LeBron, losing two different series as a member of the Boston Celtics. Iguodala has a Finals MVP Award, thanks in large part to his defense on LeBron, and an ignominious place on the wrong end of one of the most iconic plays in NBA history, thanks to LeBron’s defense on him. The defensive scheme the Heat run will be designed by Erik Spoelstra. He’s widely praised for his strategic creativity, creativity that was honed in figuring out how to maximize a lineup of versatile wings around LeBron.
It’s like an episode of Dark, different iterations of the same characters continually shape by history and then carried through time and space to find each other again, and play out the same tragic stories. And, as always, the center of the knot is LeBron James.
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