Down 3-2 to the Boston Celtics and facing elimination, the Cleveland Cavaliers needed to show up and put forth a strong effort in front of their home crowd on Friday night.
Leaning heavily on superstar LeBron James, Cleveland took control of the game in the second quarter and held on to earn a 109-99 victory.
James was simply sensational, posting 46 points, 11 rebounds, nine assists, a block and three steals in 46 dominant minutes. He went 17-of-33 from the field and knocked down 5-of-7 three-pointers en route to the series-tying win.
His performance was a sight to behold.
Those who recognize LeBron as the greatest player of all-time will have even more ammunition.
James now averages 34.1 points per game in elimination games, which is more than anyone in NBA history who has played five such games.
He also has had a triple-double or a 40-point game in each of his last seven elimination games.
And he’s just one more 40-point playoff game away from tying yet another NBA record.
The Celtics got off to a strong start, in part due to Jaylen Brown’s 15-point first quarter. They led 25-20 after the first and sent a clear message to the Cleveland crowd. The Cavaliers also lost Kevin Love midway through the quarter after a scary collision with Boston’s Jayson Tatum. He spent the rest of the contest in the locker room while being evaluated for a concussion.
But, the Cavs struck back with a 34-18 advantage in the second quarter, including a 20-4 run, to take a 54-43 lead into halftime. Although the Celtics out-scored Cleveland by one point in the second half (56-55), the Cavaliers didn’t allow them to get back in the game, especially down the stretch.
Although starters JR Smith, Tristan Thompson and Love provided a grand total of seven points on 3-of-12 shooting for the Cavaliers, George Hill stepped up to deliver 20 points on 7-of-12 shooting and also added three boards and three assists in 34 minutes. Surprisingly, Jeff Green added 14 points on 4-of-10 shooting off the bench while Larry Nance Jr. dominated in his 22 minutes on the floor, contributing 10 points on 5-of-5 shooting with seven rebounds, an assist and two steals. Overall, the Cavs shot 47.1 percent from the field, including 39.1 percent from beyond the arc. They only had 16 team assists, but turned the ball over just nine times.
Brown finished with 27 points on 11-of-18 shooting for the Celtics while point guard Terry Rozier led the team in scoring with 28 points on 10-of-16 shooting, including a 6-for-10 showing from three. Jayson Tatum added 15 points while Marcus Smart and Marcus Morris both ended up with 10. Overall, Boston was efficient, shooting 51.4 percent from the floor and also managed to convert 42.9 percent of their three-point opportunities. They had 25 team assists and turned the ball over 13 times. But, most importantly, Boston was manhandled on the glass. Cleveland out-rebounded them 44-to-31 and had 15 offensive boards.
The Celtics have lost just one game in front of their home crowd in these playoffs. Therefore, despite his incredible track record, LeBron will have his hands full in Game 7 on Sunday.