What will happen when the Boston Celtics and Cleveland Cavaliers play Game 7 on Sunday? Where will LeBron James sign this summer? You can make educated guesses, but right now, no one truly knows. Not even James.
It’s fair to wonder whether James has indeed played his final game in Cleveland as a Cav, 11 glorious and complicated seasons in. But for a moment at least, it might be worth it to forget about projecting the next move and to have some perspective on what has just happened.
James is in the midst of the most prolific postseason of his career. What he has done at Quicken Loans Arena over the past six weeks is magical, creating memories not only for his hometown fans but moments James is sure to cherish himself.
When the game winner at the buzzer in Game 5 against the Indiana Pacersfell through the net in the first round — a step-back 3-pointer that probably ended up tipping the series in the Cavs’ favor — James jumped on the scorer’s table to lead the celebration. When he made another game-winning field goal in Game 3 in the subsequent round against the Toronto Raptors — his end-to-end race, with a high-difficulty floater that banked in off the glass at a preposterous angle — he did a victory lap to soak in the sound.
Friday, in Game 6 against the Celtics, his back-to-back step-back 3-pointers late in the fourth quarter sent James on a chest-pounding jog.
Ticket holders who got to see all three live should consider themselves lucky. James has made a lifetime of memories for the fans in Cleveland in these playoffs alone.
“The love of the game causes reactions like that,” James said after the Cavaliers’ 109-99 victory. “Understanding the situation and understanding the moment that you’re in. It was just a feeling that you can’t explain unless you’ve been a part of it.”
At home in the playoffs, James is averaging 38 points, 8 rebounds and 8 assists while shooting 59 percent from the field, 41 percent from 3-point range.
He had a 46-point, 12-rebound outing and a 45-point Game 7 against Indiana in games where he didn’t make a buzzer-beater. He had a 44-point Game 4 in these conference finals at home. On Friday night, James had one of the best long-range shooting playoff games of his career, making 5 of 7 3-pointers on a night when the rest of his team went 4-for-16 on them.
“I don’t want to talk so much about [whether it’s his last game in Cleveland], but I think just his performance was amazing,” Kyle Korver said. “I’ve said this a thousand times, but I’m glad he’s on my team.”
After losing the first game of the playoffs to the Pacers, the Cavs have won their past eight home playoff games with James as the engine. As they’ve struggled in Boston, he repeatedly set the tone as they’ve won their three home games.James has played 72 playoff games in Cleveland over nine postseason runs dating to 2006. He has had some bad nights; twice the Larry O’Brien Trophy was awarded to the other team in the building. Still, an entire generation has been raised watching him make April, May and June evenings into stories for life.
Whatever happens Sunday — and whatever happens in July when James weighs whether he wants to keep doing this in Cleveland — won’t change those moments. James typically banishes nostalgia to a back shelf in his head to savor after his career is over, but he has taken extra time to savor the ride a little.
“I have a drive. I have a love of the game. I have a passion for the game,” James said. “While I have the opportunity to lace my shoes up and put a uniform on, then I try to go out and do my job to the best of my ability. Does it always work out? Obviously, no. I’m not undefeated in my career. Does it always [have] me playing great? I haven’t always played great in my career. But I just always want to try to maximize when I’m on the floor, and I’ve been able to.”