CLEVELAND — The numbers are staggering.
In two games where his team would be eliminated if it lost, LeBron James has 82 points, 24 rebounds, 18 assists, 6 blocks, has hit 7-of-14 from three, and is a +37. As Matt Moore of CBS noted, in the last two games LeBron has had 188 touches and just three turnovers. Through the Finals, LeBron leads all players (on both teams) in points, assists, blocks and steals, and he’s tied with Tristan Thompson for most rebounds. In a crucial stretch of Game 6, he scored or assisted on 27 straight Cavaliers points.
And the numbers don’t do his play justice.
LeBron has set the tone and carried a Cavaliers team that looked beaten and dejected after Game 4 all the way to a Game 7 chance to win it all. When Cleveland needed him most, he put on transcendent performances and made himself the Finals MVP favorite (regardless of who wins).
“It’s LeBron being LeBron. He’s one of the greatest of all times,” Warriors coach Tyronn Lue said. “Our back was against the wall and he took it upon himself in the last couple games, himself and Kyrie (Irving), to really put this team on their backs and really get us to where we’re trying to get to and that’s a Game 7 in Golden State.”
He took it upon himself, and Lue has put the ball in his hands during key stretches the past couple games, turning LeBron into the fulcrum of the offense.
“Then down the stretch we decided to put the ball in LeBron’s hands, let him facilitate, get guys open shots because we had a lot of shooting on the perimeter, and it opened up the floor for LeBron to get into the paint, score some, and also distribute,” Lue said.
The Warriors have had no answers for this LeBron. And they are impressed.
“He’s playing great,” said Stephen Curry, who himself dropped 30 in a losing effort. “He’s doing things that are game-changing and helping his team win. He’s been more aggressive shooting the ball.”
“I mean, he’s making his three ball, shooting 50 percent from three the last two games, maybe above,” Klay Thompson said (and it is 50 percent). “His jumper’s going in. We’ve got to do a better job of contesting at the rim with him. But give him credit, he’s making shots. Hopefully, he’s off Sunday.”
The Warriors need to try and come up with an answer for LeBron, but like countless teams before them Golden State is finding stopping this peak LeBron is next to impossible. And while LeBron looked exhausted at times he didn’t come out until the game was decided.
“I don’t think he got tired,” Lue said with a laugh. “I thought he was great. He said he felt good. With our season on the line, at the end of the third quarter he said, “I’m not coming out.” I didn’t have any intention on taking him out anyway. I don’t care what y’all say. We’re going to ride him.
“He had another unbelievable game, and that’s what we expect of LeBron, and that’s what he’s been doing his whole career. So, one more game, and we need another one out of him.”
Irving said part of the challenge is not to become a spectator and fan yourself.
“You try not to sit back and watch because you’re trying to make sure that you create space for him and able to give him outlets when he needs it, but I mean, when a guy’s got it going like that, I mean, it’s just unbelievable to be a part of,” Irving said.
LeBron, for his part, tried to deflected the chance to hype up his play.
“My teammates, like I said, have put me in position to be successful either when I have the ball or don’t have the ball, they give me the ball wherever I would like it,” LeBron said. “Setting great screens and trying to put pressure on their defense. I’ve been fortunate enough to see the ball go through the hoop the last couple of games. So, you know, I feel pretty good.”
LeBron’s “pretty good” has his team on the doorstep of an NBA Finals win — but now they have to do it on the road.
“I’ll take it. It don’t matter to me,” LeBron said with a laugh. “Like I told you guys the other day, it’s two of the greatest words in the world, and that’s “Game 7”, so I’ll play it anywhere.”
And if he plays like he has the last two games, LeBron may well end the long title drought in The Land.