CLEVELAND -- The Cleveland Cavaliers earned a four-game sweep of the Indiana Pacers in the first round of the 2017 NBA Playoffs, but it was far from easy, as all of the games came down to the final minutes of the fourth quarter.
In the course of that sweep, Cavaliers small forward LeBron James played an average of 43.8 minutes, which is his highest per-game average since his first year with the Miami Heat during the 2010-2011 season. But heading into the second round against the Toronto Raptors, the Cavaliers are not worried about James’ amount of time on the court.
“I don’t understand why people make a big deal out of minutes,” Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue said. “He had a week off before the series started. We won four straight games. He got a week off again, so now, he might play 48 minutes.
“It’s just part of the playoffs, how he’s feeling, how the games are going, but there’s no back-to-backs. Teams will suffer because they would listen to what the media is saying about guys playing minutes, and LeBron just said he feels worse when he doesn’t play.”
Despite playing increased minutes over his regular-season totals, James proved to be the leader the Cavaliers needed him to be to get through a physical series with the Pacers.
James averaged 12.5 made field goals (54.3 percent) and 2.3 made three-pointers (45.0 percent) against the Pacers. Also, James averaged 32.8 points, 9.8 rebounds, 9.0 assists, 2.0 blocks and 3.0 steals over the four-game series.
“I just think even when Coach Blatt was here and when I took over, (it’s) just understanding who he is, what he’s done and all the minutes he’s logged over the course of his career, be able to sit out of practices and not practice as much, that’s big, and I think if you ask players if they want to practice or play games, they want to play games,” Lue said.
“Through the course of the whole season, it’s been tough. We gave him games off here and there, but also, being able to play those kinds of minutes was good for him because he said he needed to stay in shape because he wasn’t practicing as much. He knows his body better than anyone and he says he feels great and that he feels worse when he doesn’t play, so we’ll see how it works out.”
Lue jokingly referred to James at “Benjamin Button,” the famous literary character who ages in reverse, but to those alongside him in the trenches, James is as impressive as they come.
“It’s impressive,” Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irving said. “It’s impressive. It’s impressive, man. Nothing short of impressive. He does an incredible job of taking care of his body, making sure he’s prepared, so you’ve got to give credit to a man like that.”