We’re living in the future. Everyone in NBA circles already has moved past these woeful Conference Finals to the main event — Cavs vs. Warriors in the Finals — and whether physically limited Cleveland can overcome the odds and give Golden State a series. Aside from a couple of games vs. Memphis in the previous round, nobody has done as much. The answer was affirmative and negative after Sunday’s 114-111 win gave the Cavs a 3-0 lead in the Eastern Conference Finals. Even on a night where his jumper had once again abandoned him (0 of 10 to start), James’ briliance was evident — 37 points, 18 rebounds, 13 assists and stellar defense. Cramping up much of the fourth quarter and overtime, James started to head to the bench, then turned around and came back out, refusing to exit as he was forced to do during last year’s Finals.
“I asked to come out, but I had a second thought,” James said after the game and a long treatment session. “And there was no way I can go. I wouldn’t have felt right about the situation, win, los, or draw, if I’d have went to the bench and not being out there for my teammates. So it was mind over matter at that point.” When James reaches that point mentally, almost no force — and certainly not the Hawks — can stop him. On top of the stats, James hit the go-ahead corner 3-pointer off a Tristan Thompson offensive rebound, and then drove and finished for the final margin of victory. “He’s just one of those guys who wills his way to win. And he preaches that on the court,” Cavs guard Iman Shumpert said.
For as well as the supporting cast has played from Matthew Dellavedova to J.R. Smith to Shumpert and Thompson, the key for any Cavs hopes from here on out lies with the man that remade the Cavs. Heavy is the crown, and James understands what he has to do with Kevin Love out for the season and Kyrie Irving on the shelf. Having James as the crux of your arsenal, however? Turns out that’s not bad. Even when James’ shot wasn’t falling, he continued to attack with abandon, and that forced the Hawks to help down, which opened the jump-pass lanes for James to kick out to shooters. That’s most of the Cavs’ offense at this point: James penetrates, forces help, and kicks, or powers his way through for a score. It’s demand, physical, painful work that results in hard fouls and eventually physical exhaustion. James cramped in the fourth quarter and overtime, which he likened to what happened to him in Game 1 of the Finals last year, though this time, he played through it.
James took a solid 90 minutes after the game to receive treatment after the game before shuffling to the podium. When he was done, he grabbed both rails to lift himself to the floor and not have to bend his legs. He looked like a guy whose body, if not spirit, had been hollowed out. “I don’t want any sympathy,” James said insistently while on the podium. “There’s no rest for the weary. If I’m putting on a uniform and I’m on the floor, I have to make things happen for our team. It’s that simple. “I’m not the only guy that’s limping. I’m not the only guy that’s cramping. I’m not the only guy that’s hurting. There are a lot of guys out there playing as well, and I’m one of them as well. So I’ve got to go out and help our team win, no matter where I’m at.”
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