If LeBron James can't find a way to bring his Cleveland Cavaliers out of their second-round funk and carry them through to the Eastern Conference finals, he's going to have a lot more problems than just a strained right elbow and a bone bruise.
For James, now 25 years old and at the tail end of his seventh season in the NBA, now is the time for him to prove his mettle as a champion. All the talent and all the numbers in the world can only get you so far. If you want a legacy in this league, you've got to have the rings.
The Cavaliers are now tied with the Celtics 1-1, and momentum appears to have swung in the C's direction as the series heads back to Boston.
If the Cavs lose this one, will it be the last straw?
James first got his team to the postseason in 2006, his third season. They made it out of the first round before losing to Chauncey Billups and his Pistons dynasty in seven.
They made the Finals for the first time in '07 — and were swept by Tim Duncan's Spurs.
Twice more, they made deep playoff runs in the East, only to be knocked out.
How many more times can the Cavs fall short before we start to question whether James has what it takes?
Michael Jordan won a title in his seventh season. Magic Johnson and Kobe Bryant had each already won three. Bill Russell, the ultimate winner in the game's history, was just wrapping up his sixth.
Will LeBron have even one?
This is the pressure that the Cavs' superstar is facing as he takes the court this week against the Celtics. The storied Celtics, with their winning tradition and their 17 banners hanging from the TD Garden rafters. The Cavs have nothing. And the burden is on James to change that.
There's been all the buzz in the world about this postseason and what it means for LeBron's future plans. Whether a title could convince him to stay in Cleveland forever, or whether an unexpected early exit could compel him to leave. But at this point, LeBron's probably not thinking about the future. He's thinking about the present, and what it means for his career.
James has all the talent in the world. No one's doubting that. It's why he's a two-time league MVP at 25; it's why he's a six-time All-Star; it's why he's already got over 15,000 career points, 3,000 rebounds and 3,000 assists to his name. Individually, he's already made his mark. He's one of the greats.
But can he win?
James is sick of the questions. That's why he ducked out on talking to the media after Game 6 of the the Eastern Conference finals last year, when his Cavs were eliminated by the upstart Magic. He doesn't want to talk about his failure, year in and year out, to get his team over the hump.
But every year the Cavs come up short, the questions keep coming up. And it's up to LeBron to silence them.
King James is playing this spring with the weight of the world on his shoulders. He's playing for his team, for his fans, for the anguished sports city of Cleveland. But most importantly, he's playing for his legacy.
That's why this series is so big. LeBron James isn't just out to beat the Celtics — he's out to defeat his demons and silence his critics. A career hangs in the balance.