Cavaliers send Eastern Conference Finals to game seven with 109-99 win over Boston
BY STONE LEXINGTON
CAVALIERS BEAT WRITER
(CLEVELAND, OH) - Entering Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals, there was only one thought on many minds — Would Friday night be the last time LeBron James would ever wear a Cleveland Cavaliers uniform?
The Cavs entered Friday’s crucial Game 6 on the verge of elimination, trailing the Boston Celtics 3-2 in the series, and it’s well-known that James is free to flee Cleveland when the NBA free agency period arrives on July 1. If the Cavs lost on Friday and James decided to take his talents to another city this summer, the move would reverberate around the league.
For Clevelanders, those fears were put on hold for at least one more game, as the Cavs forced a winner-take-all Game 7 in Boston on Sunday with a 109-99 victory in Quicken Loans Arena.
“It’s a Game 7,” James said of the challenge that awaits him on Sunday. “It’s something that you wish you have when you’re done playing. More than that, it’s just basketball for me. I know what I’m capable of doing, and I trust everything I put into it.”
The Cavs needed every ounce of what James could muster on Friday just to pull off the victory. He played nearly 47 minutes and almost posted another historic triple-double, totaling 46 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists. But it was the circumstances he had to surmount that made his performance even more impressive.
Already facing the possibility that Game 6 could have been his last game of the season, James was without Cavs power forward and second-leading scorer Kevin Love for almost the entire game. Love left the contest with roughly seven minutes remaining in the first quarter after colliding with Celtics rookie Jayson Tatum. Love was placed in the concussion protocol and did not return.
Without their All-Star power forward for most of the first quarter, the Cavs didn’t start the game they wanted. They shot 36 percent from the field in the quarter and allowed Boston to shoot 61 percent, which contributed to a Celtics’ 25-20 lead when the quarter ended.
Knowing that if their play didn’t improve quickly they could soon be making vacation plans, James and the Cavs began making their move in the second quarter. The turnaround started with James dishing a perfect pass to Jeff Green for an alley-oop to open the quarter, and when James drained a three-pointer with 8:06 to play until halftime, Cleveland secured its first lead of the evening, 34-33. Jordan Clarkson converted a layup with 4:59 to play in the half that gave the Cavs a 44-34 lead and all the momentum they needed to secure a 54-43 lead heading into the break.
While James was the catalyst for the Cavs’ second-quarter turnaround, Clarkson, Green, along with Larry Nance Jr. and Kyle Korver, were also the driving forces that changed the fortunes of the game.
“I think they responded exceptionally well,” James said of his teammates’ performance in the absence of Love. “Our second quarter guys that came off the bench, Jordan, Jeff, Kyle and Larry, they just gave us a huge boost in that second quarter…it was just huge. We needed it obviously more than ever tonight with the situation that we’re in.”
James played every minute of the first half and totaled 25 points, five rebounds and five assists before the second half even began. He didn’t exit the game until 57 seconds remained in the third quarter, as the Cavs led 80-67. He re-entered the game for the start of the fourth quarter, and sank several big shots down the stretch to put Cleveland over the top.
Leading 104-96 with the Celtics making a run in the final two minutes, James drained a ridiculous three-pointer over Tatum that put Cleveland up 11. After the shot, he beat his chest three times and let out an enthusiastic yell that virtually signaled the end. That three-pointer came only after the insane triple he drained from the left wing roughly a minute earlier. When he sank the runner off glass with just under a minute to play, Celtics head coach Brad Stevens waived the white flag and pulled his starters.
“Greatness,” Cavs head coach Tyronn Lue said to describe James’ performance on Friday. “Championship pedigree. Giving it his all.
“We needed that, especially when Kevin went down. We had to play ‘Bron as many minutes as he had to. He delivered. He was up for the challenge. He carried us home, as usual.”
During his spectacular performance, James continued to crawl up the NBA record book, as he passed Karl Malone (2,062 REB) for sole possession of the sixth-most rebounds in league postseason history. Entering Friday, James also had the highest scoring average (33.5 points) in elimination games in NBA playoff history (minimum 5 games), and he only upped that average after Game 6.
“Got to get ready,” Celtics head coach Brad Sevens said of facing a Game 7. “Got to get ready to play at a high level, just like every other game, and then it’s win or go home. It’s an absolute blast to prepare for as a coach and play in as a player.
“It’ll be a heck of a challenge, playing a really good team with obviously a tremendous individual player, who put on a tremendous show tonight.”
James needed to put on a show, while the Cavs weren’t the only team that entered Friday in a surprising hole. Cleveland has faced-off with the Golden State Warriors in each of the previous three NBA Finals, but both teams entered the day trailing in their respective series and facing elimination.
“It can be tough, but you got to be mentally tough,” Lue said of the grind it takes making back-to-back-to-back Finals appearances and competing for another. “But if you want to win, that’s what it takes. Nothing is easy, and we understand that.
“I’m pretty sure Golden State understands that. But, Rudy Tomjanovich, ‘never underestimate the heart of a champion’. Until we’re dead in our grave and until Golden State is dead in their grave, it’s not over and I’m pretty sure both teams are thinking that way.”
Cleveland moved to 8-1 at home in the 2018 NBA Playoffs, but they now have to accomplish a feat no team has accomplished in these playoffs: win a game in Boston. On Friday, Cavs point guard George Hill picked up the scoring slack for Love, totaling 20 points. Green added 14 points.
Nevertheless, the star of the night was James, who continues to leave jaws on the floor with each new performance. He’ll also put on a Cavaliers uniform for at least one more game..
POSTED 05/26/2018 00:50