CLEVELAND -- With the Cleveland Cavaliers clinging to a small lead late against the Denver Nuggets at Pepsi Center, small forward LeBron James took up the responsibility of closing out the game on the offensive end of the floor.
Over the final two minutes, James converted all four of his field goal attempts and scored nine points on the way to leading the Cavaliers (38-26) to a 113-108 victory over the Nuggets (35-30) in a game that was critical for both teams in terms of the playoff race.
“It was closing time for us, and I just had to make some plays to help us win the ballgame, and I was able to shake free a little bit and I had a little bit of air space on those shots and trusted my mechanics, trusted what I put into the game and I was able to knock them down,” James said following the win.
With 1:41 to play in the fourth quarter, James drove to the basket from the left wing and got a running layup to fall while getting fouled by Nikola Jokic. On the next possession, James showed off his range after getting a screen from point guard George Hill and buried a pull-up three-pointer from the left wing.
With only 40 seconds remaining, James drove into the lane methodically from the right wing to lane left and pulled up for a floating jumper that hit nothing but the bottom of the net. After the Nuggets pulled to within three points with only 32 seconds left, James mimicked a driving attempt before pulling up for the game-clinching jumper.
LeBron didn't miss in the final 2 minutes. 👑
4/4 FG and 9 pts ⤵️ pic.twitter.com/chr33MTcLs— ESPN (@espn) March 8, 2018
In order to stay impactful throughout the game, James ran extra sprints after Wednesday’s shootaround as to build up his wind in the high-altitude atmosphere Denver always has been known for.
“Understanding that I don’t want tonight to be the first time the altitude hits my heartrate,” James said of the idea behind the extra work. “At shootaround, I was able to get my heartrate up going. I was gasping for air, but I knew that would help me coming into the game.”
While the finish was what had people buzzing, James put together a standout game against the Nuggets, as he buried 15 of his 25 attempts, including five of his eight tries from three-point range on the way to a game-high 39 points to go along with 10 assists and eight rebounds in 39 minutes.
“I got off a good start in the third and kind of tapered off toward the end and missed some shots in the fourth as well, but just kind of stuck with it and like I said, trust,” James said. “I put so much work into my game that I’m capable of making any kind of difficult shot all over the floor.
“It’s just a feel for the game. You know how the game is being played. You know that if one team can get a couple stops and you get a couple makes, then possibly, you can try to win the game and pull away. Both teams were scoring at a high clip. I hadn’t shot the ball much after the start of the third quarter, so I just tried to implement my imprint on the game by just closing it out for us.”