When LeBron James fell to the floor in agony midway through the fourth quarter of the Cleveland Cavaliers’ Game 6 victory over the Boston Celtics, it was clear that he wasn’t acting or flopping.
He was in real pain.
After contesting a shot by Celtics rookie Jayson Tatum, James’ teammate Larry Nance Jr. fell and crashed into James’ exposed right leg. LeBron wasn’t able to avoid the contact and felt his leg awkwardly bent inwards.
It was the type of injury that has claimed many victims in the NBA over the years. Now in his 15th NBA season, James has avoided a major injury. But in an instant, as he laid on the court grimacing, it could have all come crashing down.
A serious leg injury not only could have halted LeBron’s quest for his fourth NBA title, but it also could have caused his team to crumble down the stretch without him and Kevin Love on the floor. Love had been removed in the first quarter due to a collision with Tatum that forced him to enter the league’s concussion protocol.
But, in typical fashion, James avoided a major injury, stayed in the game and put forth a 46-point effort to guide his team to Game 7. But that doesn’t mean he lost sight of how lucky he was.
"I just felt someone fall into my leg, and my leg kind of went in," James said after the game, per James McMenamin of ESPN. "I felt some pain throughout my entire right side of my ankle into my leg. I was just hoping for the best, obviously, because I've seen so many different injuries, and watching basketball with that type of injury, someone fall into one's leg standing straight up. Luckily, I was able to finish the game."
After the scare, James had 12 of his 46 points, which showed that he was still able to produce as his squad’s go-to option despite the fact that he limped to the locker room after the game was over.
Coach Tyronn Lue downplayed the situation.
“We were short on timeouts, and I was about to take one," he said of the incident. "Bron said, 'No, I'm good.' And then he came and scored right in the same possession. I think he might have just banged his knee, but other than that, he's fine.”
Eye on the prize
It would take a very serious injury to take LeBron off the court facing elimination in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals.
"Well, I wasn't coming out in either case. Obviously, I would have had to literally have a real, real, really bad injury -- [knocks on table] I don't even know if this is ... that's not even wood; I'll find some on the way out -- to come off the floor with the opportunity we have to be able to force a Game 7," James said.
LeBron will look to lead his team to perhaps the most improbable Finals appearance in his Hall of Fame career on Sunday night. One thing is for certain: he will be rested.
"As soon as I leave here, I'll start to prepare," James said after Game 6. "I'm going to get in the car and head back to Akron. As soon as I get home, I'll start my treatment. I'll do the same all day [Saturday] from before we leave to go to Boston, and then once we get into Boston, I'll do that as well. Try to get as much sleep as I can with tonight and with tomorrow and even on Sunday before the game. That's the best recovery that you can possibly get is when you're sleeping. It'll be around-the-clock treatment, and we'll see what happens."
Judging by his performance on Friday, Boston will have their hands full trying to limit him, especially in a Game 7. As seen over the years, he has stepped up his game to another dimension in this type of scenario.