LeBron James has credited Toronto Raptors’ head coach Dwane Casey for making him the player he is today, even though he has never been coached by the latter.
James was at his irresistible best as the Cleveland Cavaliers won 128-110 in Toronto on Thursday night, taking a commanding 2-0 lead in the series against the Raptors and moving a step closer to reach a fourth consecutive Eastern Conference Final.
LeBron ended the game with 43 points, 14 assists and eight rebounds, becoming the first player in NBA history to record at least 40 points and 14 assists in a post-season game and becoming the only player to have at least 40 points and 10 assists in four playoffs games.
After the game, the 33-year-old revealed the Raptors head coach played a major role in turning him into the dominant player the NBA has become accustomed to see. When he was an assistant coach for the Dallas Mavericks in 2011, Casey’s defensive strategies managed to almost completely nullify LeBron and the four-time MVP admitted the series proved to be a steep learning curve for him.
“I wasn’t that good of a player in that series [against the Mavericks],” he told reporters after Game Two, as per Ben Golliver of Sports Illustrated.
“I wasn’t a complete basketball player. Dwane Casey drew up a gameplan against me in that series in the Finals against Dallas to take away things I was very good at and to try to make me do things that I wasn’t very good at. He’s part of the reason why I am who I am today.”
Then in his first season with the Miami Heat, James arrived into the 2011 NBA Finals after averaging 26 points, 8.9 rebounds and 5.5 assists per game in the playoffs, shooting 46.3 percent.
However, in the finals, the Mavs restricted him to 17.8 points, 7.2 rebounds and 6.8 assists. While LeBron made 47.8 percent of his shots, he only averaged three points in the final quarter throughout the matchup, which Dallas won 4-2.
The criticism he received throughout and after the series certainly strengthened LeBron and helped him become the best player of his generation and arguably the best ever in NBA history behind Michael Jordan.
Casey, meanwhile, must regret playing a role in developing the three-time NBA champion into the dominant force he is today and is probably sick of the sight of LeBron as the Cavs have eliminated the Raptors over the last two seasons and have won 10 of their last 12 games against Toronto, including the last eight straight.
Having topped the Eastern Conference this season, the Raptors arrived into the series as favorites, particularly given the lack of support LeBron received from his supporting cast in the first-round, but now stare at the prospect of being swept away.