CLEVELAND — Earlier in the playoffs, LeBron James said, “Game 7, I always said are the two greatest words in sports.”
Game 7 it is again for James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, who defeated the Boston Celtics 109-99 in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals on Friday.
The home team has won every game in this series. But can the Celtics beat James in a Game 7?
The series finale is Sunday in Boston (8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN).
James and the Cavs saved their season in an unlikely manner – with Kevin Love sidelined with a head injury following a collision with Boston’s Jayson Tatum, a great performance from their bench and the Celtics shooting over 50% from the field.
Boston faced a difficult task – beating James and the Cavaliers at home with their season on the line in what could have been James’ final game in a Cavs uniform.
James, who didn’t take his first rest until 57.3 seconds remained in the third quarter, didn’t let that happen. He had 46 points, 11 rebounds, nine assists, three steals and one block and improved to 13-9 when his team faces elimination in the playoffs. His 46 points are a career-high in an elimination game.
It was also the 26th 40-point playoff game of James’ career.
Maybe James’ most important stat: three turnovers. He had committed 29 turnovers in the previous five games.
Some of the key factors from the game are below.
Cleveland trailed 30-24 with 10:12 left in the second quarter but finished the quarter on a 30-13 run, taking a 54-43 lead into halftime. James had 17 points, three rebounds and two assists during that run and had help from Jeff Green (seven points). The Cavs made 10 of 18 shots, including three of their six three-pointers, and Boston was just 4-for-17 from the field.
Cleveland pushed the lead to 77-61 in the third quarter, and when Boston cut it to single digits in the fourth, the Cavs found a way to keep it out of reach.
James, who was 5-for-7 from beyond the arc in the game, hit a three-pointer with 2:22 left in the fourth to give Cleveland a 104-94 lead and followed it with another three, putting the Cavs up 107-96 with 1:40 to play. He hit a layup with 57.8 seconds left, putting the game away for good.
No words. pic.twitter.com/1haL2NsJuW
— USA TODAY NBA (@usatodaynba) May 26, 2018
Love takes vicious hit to head
Love missed the rest of the game after his head-to-head collision with Tatum in the first quarter.
The collision happened with 7:07 left in the period as Tatum tried to get through a screen. Love fell to the ground, and the Cavs committed an intentional foul to stop the game at 6:58. Love went to the bench, sat down and then went to the locker room with a Cavs trainer. Green replaced Love in the lineup.
Cleveland general manager Koby Altman also went to the locker room to check on Love, who was sidelined with a concussion during the 2016 NBA Finals and late this season.
Cavs’ role players come through
Cleveland’s bench combined for 36 necessary points with Love out – 14 from Green, 10 from Larry Nance Jr. and six points each from Kyle Korver and Jordan Clarkson.
Starting point guard George Hill contributed 20 points.
Jaylen Brown and Terry Rozier carry Celtics
Rozier had 28 points and seven assists and Brown scored 27. It was a great performance from Boston’s backcourt, but Al Horford had just six points on 2-for-8 shooting. He had nine rebounds and four assists but the Celtics were outscored by 14 points with him on the court.
Aron Baynes, who was a factor in Boston’s Game 5 victory, was a non-factor in Game 6 – scoreless with four rebounds and two assists.