LeBron James on Sunday scored 35 points and grabbed 15 rebounds to lead the Cleveland Cavaliers to an 87-79 victory over the Boston Celtics to send his team to the NBA Finals.
James has been in the finals every year since 2011 -- four with Miami, and now four straight with Cleveland. This might be his weakest supporting cast year.
He had to do it without Kevin Love -- Cleveland's only other all-star -- who sustained a concussion in Game 6 and was replaced in the lineup by Jeff Green. Making his first start since the first-round opener against Indiana, Green scored 19 points and added eight rebounds -- the star of James' starless supporting cast.
“There’s something different about LeBron, period,” Cleveland forward Larry Nance Jr. said on Friday. “I think [coach Tyronn Lue] said it best: ‘We’re going into a Game 7 with the baddest dude on the planet on our team.’ I like our chances.”
The NBA Finals begin Thursday at either Houston or Golden State. The Rockets host the seventh game of the West finals on Monday night.
Jayson Tatum scored 24, Al Horford scored 17 and Marcus Morris added 14 points with 12 rebounds for the Celtics, who were looking to return to the NBA Finals for the first time since 2010.
Tatum had a dunk over James with 6:41 left -- and stared down the Cavaliers star and bumped him with his chest -- and then followed it with a 3-pointer that gave the Celtics a 72-71 lead. But that would be Boston's last basket for more than five minutes while Cleveland went on a 15-2 run to put the game away.
The Celtics have had more time to get used to their injuries: Gordon Hayward has been out since the first game of the season, and Kyrie Irving has been sidelined since March. With the rookie Tatum and second-year Jaylen Brown, Boston established itself as the team of the future in the East.
ADMIRING HIS WORK
The Celtics led by as many as 12 points in the first half, and they had a 51-47 lead midway through the third quarter when James hit a long 3-pointer and then Green made a 3 of his own. James hit Tristan Thompson for an alley-oop to give Cleveland a 55-51 lead, but then James threw the ball away and sent Terry Rozier off on a fast break.
James tracked the Celtics guard from the far sideline, timing his attack. When Rozier went up for the lay-in, James blocked it off the backboard and right to Green. James did not run back down the court, resting up while Green drew a foul at the other end and made one free throw to give the Cavaliers their biggest lead of the game.
"I commend my teammates and my coaching staff and everybody that put the work in, even some of our staff that is not in the limelight, behind the scenes," James said. "This was a complete team effort."