Amid all the uncertainty and chaos surrounding the Cleveland Cavaliers this season, there’s been one thing they’ve been able to count on. When they’ve needed a big game in a big moment, LeBron James would be there. And with their backs against the wall, facing elimination at the hands of the Boston Celtics in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals on Friday, once again, James was there.
James weathered an early storm by the visiting C’s, and took over the game by playing point-center with an energetic, defensively active reserve-heavy second unit early in the second quarter. He was halfway to a 50-point triple-double by halftime, and kept Boston on his hip from there. The four-time NBA Most Valuable Player and elimination-game superhero played all but one minute and 54 seconds of Game 6, scoring 46 points — a career-high in an elimination game — on 17-for-33 shooting to go with 11 rebounds, nine assists, three steals and a block to lead the Cavaliers to a 109-99 Game 6 win.
It was James’ seventh 40-point game of the 2018 postseason, tying Michael Jordan for the most such games in a single postseason since 1989. Fitting, right?
With the Cavs’ backs against the wall, James pushed the issue all night to fight out of the corner, attacking Celtics defenders big and small with an array of moves off the bounce, in the half-court and in transition. Coach Tyronn Lue and the rest of the Cavs organization needed everything he could muster, and he offered it, scoring or assisting on 23 points in the second quarter to erase an early Boston lead and put Cleveland on a path to Game 7.
James unofficially punched the team’s ticket for Boston by drilling a step-back 3-pointer over the outstretched arm of Game 5 hero Jayson Tatum with 1:40 to go in the fourth, and celebrated it like a man in total control of his game, his surroundings, his opponent and, well, everything else:
And this time, he had help.
Point guard George Hill turned in his most aggressive and effective game of the series, scoring 20 points on 7-for-12 shooting with a perfect 6-for-6 mark from the free-throw line to go with three rebounds, three assists and two steals in 34 minutes. Forwards Jeff Green (14 points, three rebounds, two assists, two blocks) and Larry Nance Jr. (10 points, seven rebounds, two steals) also offered energy and finishing prowess off the bench for the Cavs, who led by as many as 16 points.
Cleveland controlled the game for the balance of the final three quarters with LeBron’s steady hand at the controls, despite losing All-Star power forward Kevin Love midway through the first after a head-to-head collision with Tatum. The Cavaliers announced at halftime that Love — who has been in the concussion protocol multiple times in the past — would not return for the balance of Game 6, and was being evaluated for a concussion.
Point guard Terry Rozier, the former understudy to ex-Cavaliers star and injured Celtics triggerman Kyrie Irving, paced Boston with 28 points on 10-for-16 shooting with seven assists, three rebounds, two steals and only one turnover in 40 minutes of work. Swingman Jaylen Brown scored 15 in the first quarter to stake the C’s to an early lead, and finished with 27 points on 11-for-18 shooting.
Precocious wing Tatum shook off a slow start to score 15 points on 7-for-13 shooting with three rebounds and two assists. But All-Star center and two-way linchpin Al Horford struggled mightily with the physicality of Cleveland’s defense, mustering just six points on 2-for-8 shooting with nine rebounds and four assists, as the Cavs outscored Boston by 14 points in his 37 minutes of work. Boston produced efficiently,
Behind the brilliance of James and just enough help from his supporting cast, the Cavaliers staved off elimination to force a winner-take-all Game 7 back at TD Garden in Boston on Sunday night. The home team has won all six games in this series, and comfortably; Boston is a perfect 10-0 at the Garden in the postseason.
On the other hand … with one game left to determine who goes to the championship round, the visiting team employs the guy who was represented the Eastern Conference in the last seven NBA Finals, and who just put 46-11-9 on Boston’s head. Home-court advantage definitely matters. That does, too, though.
Tipoff for a berth in the 2018 NBA Finals comes at 8:30 p.m. ET. It ought to be a pretty decent night.
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