The Z REPORT

Lance Zierlein: I'm good with Lebron now

Lebron James deserves your respect. Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

I’m not saying that I’m changing my mind, because I’m not. It’s just not going to happen. There is nothing that can be done that can pull me off of the “MJ is G.O.A.T.” argument. How can I come off of it when so much of it is based on Michael Jordan rather than Lebron James?

Every generation believes the brightest star of their generation was the best, but with Jordan we have the statistics, iconic games/plays, and 6-0 run in championship series that usually featured brutal battles in the Eastern Conference as a precursor. So I doubt that there is anything that could happen to make me believe that Jordan isn’t the greatest that ever lived in basketball.

However, I’m finished arguing against Lebron. And you should be too.

Flaws corrected

There have been times during his career when doubting Lebron was a very natural and viable thing to do.

The Decision: Look, he’s never going to completely live this one down. It was a huge. He made it that was a broadcast even. He decided not to stay with his “hometown team” and instead decided to join two other superstars to form an alliance to boost their chances of winning a title. I thought it was weak then and I think it’s weak now. However, after Kevin Durant did something similar, it almost took some of the heat off of Lebron by those of us who had held him in continued contempt for that new school move.

Passive in the Finals: Miami’s loss to Dallas was a tough one for his reputation because he had promised a multitude of titles ( not one….not two….not three….) when he came to Miami and then looked passive in crunch time way too often in the Heat’s loss to Dirk and the Mavs. Despite winning titles in Miami, I felt like Lebron really elevated his stature and all-time standing when he brought the Cavs back from a 3-1 deficit to the Warriors with 41 point games in consecutive elimination games (5 and 6) and a triple double in game 7. That was some big dog sh*t right there.

Has to have stars: First it was the Miami Superfriends and then it was “coming home” to join with Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love, and Tristan Thompson. Once again, it felt like Lebron felt like he needed to have the most advantageous situation to win. But then a funny thing happened. Lebron lost Kyrie Irving and Isaiah Thomas was a non-factor when healthy. The Cavs made their big in-season trades and hit reset with a younger cast of role players who failed to make a big difference.

Lebron scored 46 and in an elimination game against the Celtics in Game 6 and 35 in a win in Game 7. Thompson and J.R. Smith are just guys now and Lebron had to attack the basket and hang 51 on the Warriors to give his team a chance to win in Game 1. The game was as close to an iconic level Michael Jordan game as I’ve ever seen. In Game 2, he was already at 15 points, 8 rebounds and 7 assists in the first half of what became a blowout loss. Lebron has proven that he is more than willing to take on ALL of the heavy lifting that goes with being an elite, all-time talent.

If you are part of #LebronHive or #TeamJordan, then good for you. I think Jordan is the greatest of all time, but it’s time to admit that Lebron James has overcome any and all of the obstacles that were in front of him (whether self made or not) on the road to all-time greatness. He has multiple titles. He’s pulled his team from the brink of elimination and won a title. He has elite statistical production that will eclipse Jordan’s and he is a dominant two-way player. Did I mention he’s incredibly durable and never gets in trouble off the court?

I’ll always take Jordan if you give me a choice, but I’m done making any arguments against Lebron James anymore. He’s proven everything he needs to in his career. If there are fans who end up seeing him as the all-time greatest, I can respect their argument much more now.

 

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Yordan Alvarez provided the offense to back up more stellar pitching by the Astros as they took ALCS game 6 to advance to the 2021 World Series. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

After splitting the first two games of this series in Houston then falling behind in the series 2-1 by dropping the first of three games in Boston, the Astros took over the ALCS in Games 4 and 5, sending them back to their home crowd with a chance to finish things off in Game 6 at Minute Maid Park. After another stellar performance by their pitching staff and more timely hitting, they would accomplish that mission, winning the series and moving on to the 2021 World Series.

Final Score: Astros 5, Red Sox 0

ALCS Series (Best of Seven): Houston wins 4-2

Winning Pitcher: Luis Garcia

Losing Pitcher: Nathan Eovaldi

Houston strikes first to start tightly-contested Game 6

After a scoreless top of the first inning by Boston's offense, the Astros capitalized on a chance to be first to score in the bottom of the frame. Alex Bregman started the two-out rally, reaching base on a single against Nathan Eovaldi for the first hit of the night. Yordan Alvarez followed, delivering his sixth RBI of the series with a double to put Houston on top 1-0.

That did not spark further immediate scoring, as the one-run score held while both starting pitchers provided solid outings for their team. For Eovaldi, he was able to limit Houston to just that single run through four frames. He returned in the bottom of the fifth, facing two batters, allowing a single, and getting a strikeout to end his night.

Garcia impresses in big start

For the home team, they were recipients of another expectation-exceeding performance from one of their young arms. Only anticipated to go a handful of innings, Luis Garcia worked efficiently and effectively against Boston, keeping them scoreless and hitless through five innings. He continued in the sixth, getting two more outs before allowing a two-out triple, ending his night as Phil Maton would enter to strand the tying run. Garcia's final line: 5.2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 7 K, 76 P.

With both teams dipping into their bullpens, the Astros took advantage of Boston's as Yordan Alvarez's dominance went on display once again. He led the inning off with a triple, then scored on a double-play ball to extend Houston's lead to 2-0. Kendall Graveman took over on the mound in the top of the seventh and worked himself into a big moment. He gave up a one-out walk, followed by a single, which put runners on the corners for Boston. He continued to struggle with the zone, falling behind the next batter 3-1, but was able to battle back to get the strikeout paired with a terrific throw by Martin Maldonado to cut down the runner from first trying to steal second, ending the inning and maintaining the two-run advantage.

Astros headed to the World Series

Ryne Stake was Houston's next reliever, and he put Houston three outs away by getting a 1-2-3 eighth. With Ryan Pressly warming, he watched and hoped that his offense could give him some more insurance to work with when he went to the mound in the top of the ninth. His wish would be granted, as after getting two on base, Kyle Tucker would put a major exclamation point on the night's offense, hitting a three-run opposite-field homer to the Crawford Boxes to push the lead to 5-0.

Pressly, now with the five-run lead, came on to try and start the celebration by getting the final three outs. Against the tougher part of Boston's order, he would get a 1-2-3 inning, giving the Astros the American League pennant, which along with those won in 2017 and 2019, puts them back in the World Series for the third time in five years.

Up Next: The Astros will have three days off before The Fall Classic kicks off. While Game 1 will be on Tuesday, October 26th, nothing else has yet been determined as Houston awaits to see which of the Dodgers and Braves will advance out of the NL, which will also dictate if the Astros will host or travel to World Series Game 1.

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