James dominates, Cavs level series

LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers played a pivotal role in his side's 109-99 win against the Boston Celtics on Friday, despite a moment when he went down, clutching his knee in pain.
LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers played a pivotal role in his side's 109-99 win against the Boston Celtics on Friday, despite a moment when he went down, clutching his knee in pain.PHOTOS: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers played a pivotal role in his side's 109-99 win against the Boston Celtics on Friday, despite a moment (above) when he went down, clutching his knee in pain.
LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers played a pivotal role in his side's 109-99 win against the Boston Celtics on Friday, despite a moment (above) when he went down, clutching his knee in pain.PHOTOS: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

With Cleveland facing elimination, his 46-pt performance puts Game 7 pressure on Boston

CLEVELAND (Ohio) • Quicken Loans Arena was hushed, and team-mates huddled and stared at the Cleveland Cavaliers' biggest fear realised: LeBron James, down on the court, holding his right knee and wincing in pain.

But James slowly rose like the majestic player he is, his expression turned placid, and he finished what he started, turning in another dominant performance in a 109-99 win in Game 6 over the Celtics.

The win forced the National Basketball Association (NBA) Eastern Conference Finals to a Game 7 tonight (tomorrow morning, Singapore time) in Boston, with the series tied at 3-3.

With his team facing elimination, James pushed past his fourth-quarter leg issue to finish with 46 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists.

In order to reach a fourth straight NBA Finals, the Cavs will have to be the first team to win on the road in the series, and the first to beat Boston at home in this post-season.

"It feels good just to be able to play for another game," said James, who has been to seven straight NBA Finals with Miami and Cleveland.

"For us to be on the road in a hostile environment where we've had no success up to this point, we should relish the opportunity."

  • 7

    The past seven times that his team have faced elimination, LeBron James has scored a triple-double or a 40-point game, including 46 on Friday against Boston.

  • 10

    Boston's victories in the 2018 play-offs at their TD Garden home, the venue of Game 7:

    •Milwaukee 4-0

    •Philadelphia 3-0

    •Cleveland 3-0

Friday night was not a "flu game" - the iconic moment Michael Jordan created in the 1997 NBA Finals. Yet James added to his legend.

He has had either a triple-double or a 40-point game in each of the past seven games with his team facing elimination, according to ESPN Stats & Info.

He was 17 of 33 from the field against the Celtics, doing most of his damage after Kevin Love left the game in the first quarter following a head collision with Jayson Tatum.

When asked about James' night, Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue stifled a chuckle, then started with just one word.

"Greatness," he said. "Championship pedigree. You know, giving it his all. We needed that, especially when Kevin went down. He delivered. He carried us home, as usual."

James received help from three team-mates who reached double figures - George Hill with 20, Jeff Green (14) and Larry Nance Jr (10) - but make no mistake, the responsibility in beating the Celtics belonged to him alone.

He scored the big shots and made the necessary plays with the resolve of a man who has spent the last seven Junes on the hardwood.

While the backcourt of Terry Rozier (28 points) and Jaylen Brown (27) stabilised Boston, who are trying to return to the NBA Finals for the first time since 2010, the duo could not stop James.

Within the final minute of the game, James no longer limped as he drove at Brown and scored at the rim while getting hacked.

The chants of "M-V-P" resounded in the sold-out arena, and that praise peaked at the buzzer when the arena announcer intoned: "We're going to Game 7!"

James improved to 13-9 in elimination games. In the 21 previous elimination games over his career, he has averaged 33.5 points, the most of any player in league history in those moments.

Although he also played as an all-around threat (10.8 rebounds and 7.3 assists in elimination games), he embraced the instinct to score.

After Love's accident just five minutes into the game, James was left without an All-Star wingman, and yet the crucial moment served only as the backdrop to yet another masterful performance.

It was his seventh 40-point performance of these play-offs, tying Jordan (1989) for second-most 40-point games in a single post-season behind the eight of Jerry West in 1965.

"The love of the game causes reactions like that," said James.

"Understanding the situation and understanding the moment that you're in. It was just a feeling that you can't explain unless you've been a part of it. Hopefully, I'll get myself in a position to play great once again on Sunday."

The 46 points were also the most he has scored in an elimination game and just three shy of his play-off career high.

James, who is expected to become a free agent on July 1, has said throughout the play-offs that he is not thinking about his future. Now his horizon does not extend beyond Game 7.

The Celtics may be unbeaten at home in the play-offs but Rozier said they cannot be complacent.

"We've still got to come out aggressive and play Celtics basketball," he said. "We can't just rely on being at home for an excuse that it's going to be easy. It's not."

WASHINGTON POST, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on May 27, 2018, with the headline 'James dominates, Cavs level series'. Print Edition | Subscribe