Basketball: James charges into 6th straight finals

LeBron James going for a dunk in the second quarter of the Cavaliers' Game 6 win over the Raptors in the Eastern Conference finals. The Cavs star scored 33 points to lead his team to their second straight NBA Finals appearance.
LeBron James going for a dunk in the second quarter of the Cavaliers' Game 6 win over the Raptors in the Eastern Conference finals. The Cavs star scored 33 points to lead his team to their second straight NBA Finals appearance.PHOTO: REUTERS

Cavs star sets the tone for Game 6 win over Raptors, fancies chances with healthy squad

TORONTO • LeBron James is planning to "appreciate" a sixth consecutive National Basketball Association (NBA) Finals appearance, after the Cleveland Cavaliers overcame the Toronto Raptors on Friday to cement victory in their Eastern Conference final series.

In his second season back with his home-town team, James scored 33 points, six assists and 11 rebounds as the Cavaliers thumped the Raptors 113-87 in Toronto to confirm a 4-2 series victory.

He played in four straight NBA Finals with the Miami Heat, winning two championships, in 2012 and 2013, before returning to Cleveland last season.

"This is my sixth straight and it means everything," the four-time MVP said. "I don't think last year I appreciated it enough getting back to the finals.

"This year I'm going to appreciate this. Having our team at full strength, I appreciate this moment, to be able to be a part of it and to be in the Finals once again."

  • 18

    In reaching six straight Finals, LeBron James' teams have won 18 Eastern Conference series on the bounce.

    25

    James has secured at least one road victory in 25 straight series - the longest such streak in NBA history - to break a tie with Michael Jordan.

    81

    James scored 30+ for the first time in 14 games this post-season - the 81st time in his career.

James was referring to last year's Finals, where he almost single-handedly carried the injury-riddled Cavaliers to an unlikely triumph over the Golden State Warriors.

However, without forward Kevin Love and guard Kyrie Irving, the other two key members of Cleveland's "Big Three", the Cavaliers were severely undermanned, falling 2-4 in the Finals.

With the city of Cleveland still yearning for a first NBA title, James believes that, with Love and Irving healthy, the chances of ending that disappointment are far greater this year.

James was up for Game Six on Friday, hitting 13-of-22 from the floor. More importantly, he pounced early, scoring 13 points inside the first seven minutes as the Cavs jumped out to a lead they would not surrender.

"I had to bring my game, be in attack mode from the beginning," he said.

"I had to trust my shot. I knew once my shot started going, I could get my team-mates involved and they were able to carry me down the stretch."

Coach Tyronn Lue acknowledged the importance of getting James to come out firing on all cylinders.

"We needed LeBron to set the tone for us early, and I thought he did that," he said.

"We knew LeBron at some point was going to run out of gas. LeBron expended so much energy in that first quarter to get us off to that great start and then Kyrie and Kevin brought us home.

"To go to six straight finals is unbelievable."

Vanquished coach Dwane Casey praised James effusively.

"There's only one LeBron James," he said. "You put him on any team and he's going to be a difference-maker.

"Everybody on that organisation, their level has gone up because he's on their team."

Toronto brought the curtain down on their first appearance in the Eastern Conference finals with a 35-point display from Kyle Lowry, while DeMar DeRozan added 20 points.

The Cavaliers' appearance in the finals caps a roller-coaster season which saw head coach David Blatt fired in January and replaced with Lue.

James himself had earlier in the season voiced doubts as to whether the Cavaliers had the ability to challenge for the title - reservations which seemed a distant memory in the afterglow of Friday's win.

"We've covered a lot of ground and I still believe we can get better," he said. "We've had our ups and downs. But take nothing away from what we've done - our guys are unbelievable, our coaching staff are unbelievable."

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on May 29, 2016, with the headline 'James charges into 6th straight finals'. Print Edition | Subscribe