Cleveland Cavaliers small forward LeBron James does what is necessary to involve his teammates, but also, finish at the rim and on jump shots when called upon to do so, especially when it comes to the NBA Playoffs.
Behind a 38-point effort from James and career playoff highs from Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson, the Cavaliers fought their way to a 117-104 victory over the Boston Celtics in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals at TD Garden in Boston Wednesday night.
“Just trying to make plays for myself, make plays for my teammates, keep the defense off balance throughout the course of a 48-minute game,” James said. “The coaching staff and my teammates do a great job of putting me in a position to succeed, and I just try to come through for them every night.”
Despite a 10-day layoff since closing out the Toronto Raptors in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, James, Love and Thompson combined to score 90 points, pull down 30 rebounds and steal five passes in the lopsided victory.
Against eight different defenders, James led the way with the 38 points, nine rebounds, seven assists and two steals over 42 minutes. James finished the game plus-16, the second-best margin of the game. It was James’ seventh straight playoff game with at least 30 points.
Former Cavaliers center Shaquille O’Neal was the last player to accomplish a similar feat, and he did so in the 2002-2003 season.
“I pretty much know how many guys I'm going to see throughout the course of a game,” James said. “I know the guy that's going to start on me. I know the guy that's going to shift off onto me if a sub happens or if they go small or if they go big.
“For me, the only thing on my mind is how we can execute the best way we can and get a bucket in this possession, either if I can get myself a shot or if I can drive, get my shooters a shot or if I can get a double-team in the paint or get to the free-throw line.
“It's not an individual matchup for me, no matter who's in front of me. My mind is always racing on how I can make this the best possession at that particular time.”
After helping to establish his teammates, James went to work on the offensive end of the court, attacking the basket and converting three of his next four shots, which staked the Cavaliers out to a 24-13 advantage over the Celtics with 2:54 left in the period.
James closed out the quarter with two driving layups and a third basket that came as a result of a goaltending violation.
Then, James scored the Cavaliers’ final eight points of the half, twice on jumpers after posting up on the left low block, and then, after knocking down a pair of free throws and missing a layup, he finished off a drive with a basket in the waning seconds of the quarter.
“He's playing at a high level right now, and that's the reason why we're riding him so much,” Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue said. “He's really setting the tone for us in these playoffs. It started the second half of the season. I really thought he hit a great stride offensively, and it's carried over into the playoffs. We're just kind of riding it, and Kevin and Kyrie and everybody else is just filling in.”