CLEVELAND — LeBron James led the Cavaliers in all five major statistical categories in their series against the Indiana Pacers and improved to 13-0 all time in the first round after Sunday’s 105-101 win in Game 7.
James scored 45 points on 16-of-25 shooting Sunday and averaged 41.8 points in the Cavs’ four wins.
“I guess in a sense I had to do what I had to do to help us win,” James told ESPN on his way out of the arena after the game. “One thing about me, I like being efficient, and I know I averaged 42 in the wins, but I was just efficient. Besides Game 6 when I was 7-for-16, I was pretty much efficient throughout the whole series and just trying to keep the defense off balance, and if they doubled me here or they trapped me here, making sure I get the ball in the right places for my teammates.
“But that’s what the doctor called for, and I had to go out and try to make plays, and I did that.”
James finished the series with averages of 34.4 points on 55.3 percent shooting from the field (35.3 percent from 3) and 81.8 percent from the foul line to go with 10.1 rebounds, 7.7 assists, 1.4 steals and 1.0 blocks per game.
Sunday, he became the first player in the past 20 seasons to start a Game 7 by going 7-for-7 from the field, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. In addition to the 45 points, he posted nine rebounds, seven assists and four steals to up his personal all-time record in Game 7s to 5-2.
“Just trying to make plays offensively and defensively and continued to trust my guys and trust myself and trust how much work I put into my game,” James said during his postgame news conference. “So it definitely … it was good to be able to make plays and advance, and kudos and a big shout out to the Indiana Pacers. They were tough. … They definitely pushed us, pushed us to the brink.”
James pushed himself so far by playing every second of the first 35 minutes of Game 7 that he had to check himself out to go to the locker room for treatment with 1:00 left in the third quarter.
“I just had a little minor injury that we had take care of to get ready for the fourth quarter,” James said.
James said team medical personnel suggested an IV during the quarter break but that he turned them down. ESPN’s Doris Burke, on the ABC broadcast, reported that James was experiencing cramping.
James, 33, averaged 41.4 minutes per game in the first round, second among all postseason players, behind only Paul George, 27, who averaged 41.8 in the Oklahoma City Thunder’s six-game loss to the Utah Jazz.
“That’s why you play the minutes throughout the course of the season the way he does, — when these types of situations happen, you’re prepared for them,” said Cavs coach Tyronn Lue. “So, he’s used to playing 41, 42 minutes and being able to take it with his body and still be able to produce. A lot of guys, they get in the playoffs, they’re not used to playing that many minutes and then it being a high-intensity atmosphere, it’s kind of hard for those guys to perform. So, he does a great job of taking care of his body, a great job of conditioning himself for these types of situations.”
Even still, while James led all players in minutes during the regular season as well, he played just 36.9 minutes per game during the 82-game slate.
By virtue of the Cavs going the distance with the Pacers, they will have just one day off Monday before the start of their Eastern Conference semifinals series against the Toronto Raptors on the road on Tuesday.
“I’m burnt right now,” James said. “I’m not thinking about Toronto right now until tomorrow. I’m ready to go home. Can we? I’m tired. I want to go home.”
Punctuating the load he carried for Cleveland against Indiana, consider that it was the first playoff series out of the 42 that he has competed in during his career without any teammate scoring 20 points in any of the games, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
“He had a few games this series where he was incredible. You almost come to expect it,” said Kevin Love, the Cavs’ second-leading scorer against the Pacers with an average of 11.4 points per game. “I admire how he approaches every single game; and he was amazing [Sunday], and we needed everything.”
Love wasn’t the only one to marvel at James’ performance.
“Whenever you’ve got the best player in the world or your leader on the team giving everything he’s got, whether he’s playing the point guard position, guarding, rebounding, blocking shots, assisting, for me and the younger guys, we’ve got to pick it up,” Tristan Thompson said. “We’ve got to give everything we’ve got. If he’s giving 100 percent, we’ve got to give 120. … I thought I had a good motor but his motor is unreal. He’s got a Lamborghini motor.”
Kyle Korver referenced another former MVP teammate of his when describing James.
“Allen Iverson used to say, ‘You know how hard it is to shoot 30 shots a game? You know how much energy it takes to shoot 30 shots a game?’ And it’s true,” Korver said. “A lot of us don’t understand, to create that many shots takes a lot of energy. Bron’s doing that, plus he’s doing so many other things. I don’t think he’s appreciated enough for just how much energy he puts into every single game to do what he does. It’s just unbelievable.”
Not only did James stave off elimination, but he also extended his career in Cleveland for at least another round. Many league insiders believe James will opt out of the final year of his contract with the Cavs and strongly consider joining another franchise as an unrestricted free agent this summer.
“You start thinking like, ‘Is this it? Could this be it?’ That’s just human nature,” James said of the stakes of Game 7. “And then the other side of my brain was like, ‘Let’s go make something happen. Let’s go, that’s what you here for. You’re here to make plays, you’re the leader.’
“I was just trying to be sharp. I know I can be sharp. And I know I’m not going to leave a Game 7 (with a performance) that’s like, ‘Oh, I wish I would’ve did this,’ or, ‘I wish I would’ve did that.’ I’ll be able to leave the game and sleep comfortably because I’m going to leave everything out on the floor. That was just my mindset.”
Now the question becomes, what will he James have left as encore against the Raptors?
“This is a different year,” James told ESPN, referencing the Cavs’ relatively easy early-round playoff success the last several springs. “It’s going to be challenging for us. So, that’s our first challenge. We’ll see what happens.”