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The Cavs don’t trust each other

LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers face elimination because of hero ball

You win the Eastern Conference with 57 wins, which also happens to be the NBA’s third-best record. You breeze through the early rounds of the 2016 playoffs, sweeping your first two series. Your roster’s healthy entering the 2016 NBA Finals. You plan to avenge last year’s Finals loss that you largely blamed on injuries.

So why are the Cleveland Cavaliers on the verge of elimination to the Golden State Warriors going into Monday night’s Game 5 of the NBA Finals?

It’s all about trust.

That’s the only way to explain LeBron James and Kyrie Irving combining to shoot 33 of Cleveland’s 36 points in the second half of Friday’s 108-97 loss, a game in which the Cavaliers had just five assists on 18 second-half baskets.

How much were James and Irving hogging the ball? Cavs guard J.R. Smith played all but five seconds of the second half and didn’t take a shot. It’s true that Smith’s a two-faced enigma: “Bad” J.R.’s a known, streaky gunner who has disappeared for long stretches during the Finals. “Good” J.R. is 17th on the NBA’s all-time 3-pointers made list and was coming off a breakout Game 3 performance where he scored 20 points.

James apparently had no problem with the ball hogging during the fourth quarter of a game the Cavaliers needed to win.

“Our coach, Coach Lue, told us to be aggressive,” James said. “We want to get our guys involved and keep our guys in a good rhythm. I just think it was just the way the game played out [Friday].”

It’s hard to imagine a coach drawing up a game plan where two scorers aimlessly dribble and shoot while their teammates watch. What made it perplexing to watch was the Cavaliers actually held a lead early in the fourth quarter of a game that could have shifted the momentum.

Hero ball does not win championships. And James should know.

James never would have never won his first title in 2012 without the contributions of Shane Battier (17 points in a Game 2 win) and Mike Miller (seven of eight 3-pointers in the Game 5 clincher over the Oklahoma City Thunder).

And James likely wouldn’t have won his ring if the Big Three didn’t trust key role players such as Mario Chalmers, Chris Andersen and Ray Allen, whose game-tying 3-pointer sent Game 6 into overtime and turned the tide of the series against the San Antonio Spurs.

History says James has little shot of winning his third ring. No team has won a title after trailing a series, 3-1. And the Cavaliers would need to win three out — including two games on the road — against a Warriors team that hasn’t dropped three straight games all season.

Sometime this week the Warriors will celebrate their second NBA title, validating both point guard Stephen Curry’s back-to-back regular season MVP award and team ball.

The Cavaliers? They’ll enter the offseason — perhaps, as soon as Monday night — with major questions.

Will they entertain trading power forward Kevin Love, who has come up small at times during the Finals?

What pieces are needed for the Cavaliers — the best team in the East — to compete for an NBA title?

How is the legacy of James affected by another failed attempt at an NBA title?

The narrative going into Monday night could have been much different if the Cavaliers had only shown some trust in each other on Friday.

Jerry Bembry is a senior writer at The Undefeated. His bucket list items include being serenaded by Lizz Wright, and watching the Knicks play an NBA game in June.