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Random dribbles following the Cavaliers’ 109-99 season-saving win over the Boston Celtics in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals on Friday.
1. Elimination game. LeBron James. Cavs win. Can they do it again?
2. After seeing James erupt for a remarkable 46 points on Friday, the Cavs should like their chances.
3. Yes, I know, the Celtics are undefeated at home in the postseason. Yes, I know, so many of the Cavs’ baskets seem like a major challenge. And yes, I know, Kevin Love could miss the deciding game with what could be ruled a concussion.
4. But the truth of the matter is James has been in this situation before. He won’t be intimidated. He won’t care that it’s on the road. He won’t give the Celtics’ perfect playoff mark at a home a second thought.
5. So we know LeBron will be just fine. But what about the rest of the Cavs? Well, at least some of the signs are promising.
6. George Hill (20 points) played his best game of the series, overcoming yet another clunker on the road. Jeff Green (14 points, some solid defense) filled in admirably for Love. And Larry Nance Jr. (10 points, 5-of-5 shooting) came off the bench to offer an extremely underrated lift — using hustle and the usual dose of athleticism to make a real difference.
7. Still, the Cavs have already struggled mightily in Boston with Love. Winning there without him with be a tall, tall task.
8. In the first five games vs. the Celtics, Love averaged 15.0 points and 11.0 rebounds. He’s played soft way too often, but even at his worst, Love keeps the Celtics’ defense occupied. That would be a hard thing to do without on the road.
9. Anyway, let’s stick to what worked Friday. It starts with James, not only did he nearly hit 50 points, he also collected a game-high 11 rebounds and passed for a game-high 9 assists. He simply picked apart the Celtics’ aggressive and physical defense with his usual array of speed, power and finesse.
10. He also made sure to make every effort to get his teammates involved, setting up easy scores and building confidence. When that failed, he just did the job himself. In a long line of incredible postseason performances from the King of Cleveland basketball, well, this one ranks way up there.
11. Of course, it didn’t happen without incident. After James dominated during his first 35 minutes on the floor, Nance Jr. tumbled into James’ leg, James crumbling to the floor in obvious pain. It initially looked like he may not get up. But the man is a basketball warrior, shook it off, and finished the job.
12. LeBron on the scare: “I felt some pain throughout my entire right side of my ankle into my leg. I was just hoping for the best, obviously, because I’ve seen so many different injuries, and watching basketball with that type of injury, someone fall into one’s leg standing straight up. Luckily, I was able to finish the game.”
13. Cavs coach Tyronn Lue on LeBron: “Greatness. Championship pedigree. Giving it his all. We needed that, especially when Kevin went down. We had to play ‘Bron as many minutes (game-high 46) as he had to. He delivered. He was up for the challenge. He carried us home as usual.”
14. Hill on LeBron: “To have him on our side let’s me take a deep breath of fresh air. It’s something you can’t really explain, but what he’s doing every night is really special.”
15. LeBron gives the Cavs their best chance at advancing to a fourth straight appearance in the Finals. But he’s not alone. Believe it or not, TEAM defense is also playing a significant role. Yes, the defense. This is the same Cavs team that couldn’t have defended the Gatorade cooler at the end of the bench for most of the season. Yet here they are today, bending their knees, shuffling their feet and challenging shots at the rim.
16. It may or may not be the type of defense that wins championships, but for the Cavs, it’s been a major improvement — and it is the type that may help you steal a Game 7 on the road.
17. Meanwhile, the star-less Celtics are a highly emotional team. Sometimes, it works in their favor. It’s usually how they win. They are in your face and furious. At least, they sure have been that way in Boston. But emotions can sometimes get the best of you, and that is what the Cavs are hoping will finally be the case. They are the experienced, cool-headed team with LeBron. For the majority of these Celtics, the pressure of a deciding game against the league’s biggest star is entirely new.
18. What will it mean? That can only be decided on the court. It will undoubtedly help if the Cavs have a healthy Love. It will undoubtedly help if the likes of Hill, J.R. Smith and Kyle Korver bury some outside shots. And it will undoubtedly help if Tristan Thompson and Nance Jr. play with unmatched energy.
19. But if all else fails, it may only take LeBron just being LeBron.
20. LeBron on Sunday: “It’s a Game 7. It’s something that you wish you had when you’re done playing, but more than that, it’s just basketball for me. I know what I’m capable of doing, and I’m going to trust everything I put into it.”
21. Translation: Buckle up. LeBron has another huge challenge in front of him. And he’s always OK with that.