Published On: Mon, May 28th, 2018

LeBron finds some peace after another epic Game 7 performance

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BOSTON – In the Cleveland locker room, moments after the Cavaliers celebrated their Game 7 victory over the Celtics by singing Meek Mill’s “Dreams and Nightmares” as a group, LeBron James sat by himself in his locker with his feet in an ice bucket, pulled out a copy of “The Alchemist” – a novel he’s been reading during the playoffs – and quietly read.

Moments of peace have been rare for James in these playoffs. Carrying a team to the NBA Finals takes a lot of time, focus, and energy. Sunday’s Game 7 victory required him to play the entire 48 minutes in Boston, in what was his 100th game of the season.

Even though the Celtics jumped out to a seven-point lead in the first quarter, James dove into the second row in hopes of getting a steal, setting the tone for what would be required for the Cavaliers to steal a game on the road against a Boston team that came into Sunday with a 10-0 record in the playoffs at TD Garden.

James set the tone over and over again. The Celtics opened a double-digit lead in the second quarter and threatened to run away with it. The Cavs’ season teetered on the edge, but their leader was a one-man show, keeping them in the game.

The Cavs cut the lead to three points at the end. The Celtics scored 26 points in the first quarter and then shot 11-for-41 for 30 points over the next two quarters. In the third, James sized up Terry Rozier for a block attempt at mid-court and rose to meet him at the rim, rejecting the shot, then stood underneath the basket as the rest of his teammates went back on the other end. Sometimes even the King needs a moment to rest.

In the fourth quarter, James took over. He finished with 35 points, 15 rebounds, and nine assists. He finally found another teammate, any teammate, to join him for the ride, as Jeff Green – inserted into the starting lineup in Kevin Love’s absence – finished with 19 points and eight rebounds, including a key corner three midway through the fourth quarter to help the Cavaliers regain the lead. They wouldn’t relinquish it the rest of the way.

“The bigger the stage, the bigger the player,” Cavaliers head coach Tyronn Lue said afterward. “He’s been doing it for us since we’ve been here. The great quote from the great Doc Rivers is you always want to go into Game 7 with the best player, and we have the best player on our team going into a Game 7. He delivered again.”

It’s an eighth consecutive Finals appearance for James, but even he admitted after Sunday’s game that this season has been a different challenge, between a roster turnover and the incredible load he’s had to carry to drag this team past the finish line.

“It’s what’s been asked of me,” James said. “And I have been able to just try to figure it out. … It was asked of me tonight to play the whole game, and I just tried to figure out how I could get through it.”

And what about the challenge of the entire season? James was reminded that he’s said at times this has felt like five seasons in one.

“Well, it’s now six,” he joked, comparing the 2017-18 Cavaliers season to Ohio’s Cedar Point, the roller-coaster capital of the world. “This has been one of the most challenging seasons I’ve had.”

James reset mentally around the trade deadline, and despite a midseason swoon, and the eventual trade of Isaiah Thomas, and the departures of Dwyane Wade, Iman Shumpert, Channing Frye, and Derrick Rose, and the integration of a brand-new set of teammates, he settled on embracing the challenge once more.

“I said, ‘OK, this is the season and let’s try to make the most of it,'” James said. “That’s what’s gotten me to this point – gotten our team to this point.”

Sunday’s game encapsulated Cleveland’s entire postseason run, which required the full seven games to eliminate the Pacers and Celtics, and required James to be at the very top of his game, which was still only enough to give the Cavaliers the slimmest of winning margins.

But it was enough to once again clear all of the hurdles in the East. It wasn’t a breeze like in years past, but nonetheless, the result stands: James is in The Finals for the ninth time in his career. So, given all of the ups and downs this season, did he ever consider it was too much of a challenge to overcome?

“I mean,” he said, smirking. “If I did, I wouldn’t tell you.”

The answer might matter later, when the offseason comes and James assesses what situation is best for his NBA future. That’s when a season of trying to cobble together a roster that might not appease him for the future will come back to haunt the Cavs. But for now, the answer to whether James came close to giving up hope on this team doesn’t matter. They’re still kicking, and playing for a championship once again, even if the Warriors or Rockets will be heavily favored in the NBA Finals.

“We have an opportunity to play for a championship,” James said. “That’s all that matters.”

After having his moment to read “The Alchemist” at his locker, James was once again holding court, surrounded by reporters hoping to get a piece of his mind. He was relieved, happy to be heading home to Cleveland for a brief rest before preparing for Game 1 of the NBA Finals this Thursday.

“You ever seen ‘Finding Nemo?'” James asked the reporters around his locker. “Just keep swimming. Keep swimming.”

Alex Wong is an NBA freelance writer whose work has appeared in GQ, The New Yorker, Vice Sports, and Complex, among other publications.

(Photos courtesy: Getty Images)

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