Entering Game 7 on Sunday afternoon, LeBron James had never lost a first round series in his 15-year NBA career.
He made sure that was still the case after pouring in 45 points, grabbing 9 rebounds and dishing out 7 assists as he propelled the Cleveland Cavaliers over the Indiana Pacers 105-101.
But this series, and Game 7 in particular, clearly took a toll on James. In his postgame press conference LeBron said “I’m burnt right now, I’m tired…I wanna go home,” when asked about thinking about Cleveland’s next series.
James finished the seven game series averaging 34.4 points on 55.3 percent shooting (35.3 percent from 3) 10.1 rebounds, 7.7 assists and 1.4 steals.
Prior to Game 7, the announcement was made that head coach Tyronn Lue would start Tristan Thompson. This was quite the shock to most everyone, as Thompson had on seen the court for 23 minutes the first six games.
In fact, the lineup Lue went with on Sunday had a familiar look. It included all five of the remaining members of the Cavaliers finals team last season.
The message was quite clear, the players who would see the floor the most were those who had been in the trenches before. After being heavily criticized for much of the season (and rightfully so at times) this move by Lue paid off.
Tristan’s hustle and grit was back, and the sold out crowd in Cleveland showed their appreciation. In the first quarter alone Thompson scored six points and grabbed seven rebounds. For the game, his 15 points were second to only LeBron, and his 10 rebounds were a team high.
Games 1-6: 3 PTS, 6 REB
Game 7: 15 PTS, 10 REB, THIS BLOCK pic.twitter.com/vLETNNwFrI
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) April 29, 2018
This move by Lue also allowed Kevin Love to slide back to his original power forward spot. A front court trio of James, Love and Thompson will be the Cavaliers best option moving forward.
Thompson presence on was also felt on defense, as he challenged Myles Turner and held him scoreless through the first half. In fact, the trio of Tuner, Thaddeus Young and Bojan Bogdanovic scored a total of four points for Indiana in the first half.
But once again the third quarter doomed Cleveland. Turnovers were the main cause this time, as the Cavaliers committed seven, which led to 10 Indiana points. Cleveland also could not contain Victor Oladipo, as the Pacers star scored 17 of his 30 points in the third quarter.
Cleveland, who briefly trailed by three, withstood the Pacers run and went into the fourth quarter up by two points.
LeBron, who left the floor prior to the end of the third quarter, missed nearly the first four minutes of the fourth quarter. James was dealing with cramps and needed treatment. But unlike in the past, Cleveland did not give the lead up with their superstar on the bench.
Sparked by Love’s eight point and George Hill’s nine points in the quarter Cleveland maintained their lead. Then with just over 90 seconds left, Thompson made the perfect defensive rotation and swatted Darren Collison to preserve the Cavaliers eight point lead.
Not even the pest himself, Lance Stephenson, could deny what happened postgame. The Pacers were beat by the better team.
— Tom Withers (@twithersAP) April 29, 2018
A huge sigh of relief came from fans inside Quicken Loans Arena as the final buzzer sounded. It took everything Cleveland had, but they survived a tough, first round test.
This win put to rest (for now) the talk of LeBron potentially leaving this offseason. Instead the Cavaliers now get ready to face the Toronto Raptors for the third consecutive postseason.
Cleveland found a lineup that works in LeBron, Love, Thompson, Kyle Korver and J.R. Smith. Expect those players are the ones that will see over 30 minutes against the Raptors. However players like Hill, Hood, Clarkson and Nance Jr will need to play well in the minutes they see.
The more the other Cleveland players can contribute, the less LeBron has to worry about. However, James has quite resume against Toronto. In 10 career playoff games (8-2) James averages 30 points,
8.4 rebounds, 6.1 assists on 60.1 percent shooting (41.7 percent from 3-point range).
There are still kinks to workout and in order to defeat the East’s top seed, Cleveland will need a better all-around team effort.
For now all is well in ‘The Land’ as LeBron put the team on his back and did (literally) whatever it took to make sure his team got the win. Now as the playoffs push on, Cleveland will look to leave their poor performances behind them and push forward toward a fourth straight NBA Finals.