September 12, 2018
LeBron James wasn’t ready to go home or to Philadelphia or Los Angeles.
He’s heading to Toronto Charley Taylor Jersey , bringing a Cavaliers team that isn’t done yet.
Unwilling to sit despite battling leg cramps in the second half, James scored 45 points and got some much-needed help from his teammates in Game 7 to stay unbeaten in the opening round of the NBA playoffs, leading the Cavaliers to a 105-101 win on Sunday over the Indiana Pacers, who pushed the game’s best player to the breaking point.
Following the game, an exhausted James said the series took a physical toll.
”I’m burnt right now,” he said. ”I’m not thinking about Toronto right now until tomorrow. I’m ready to go home. Can we? I’m tired. I want to go home.”
James added nine rebounds, seven assists and played over 43 minutes while improving to 13-0 in the first round. He kept Cleveland’s strange season alive – for the time being – but it took everything the 33-year-old and the Cavs had to hold off the Pacers, who came in confident after a 34-point win in Game 6.
But James, who at times seemed to be playing the Pacers by himself in the series, pulled the Cavs back from the brink of elimination and at least delayed any more talk about impending free agency.
”Amazing,” Indiana’s Victor Oladipo said of James. ”He did what he always does. It’s not really shocking. He’s the best in the world, and that’s what the best does and now I gotta work to get on that level.”
The Cavs will open the conference semifinals on Tuesday at top-seeded Toronto.
Early in the game, James looked at agent Rich Paul sitting courtside and told him he wasn’t coming out. James then played the first 35 minutes before heading to the locker room with one minute left in the third to be treated for what he said was ”a little minor injury.” James said he was urged to get IV fluids but turned them down.
Nothing was going to keep James off the floor in what some Cleveland fans feared could have been his last game with the franchise.
He fought through the fatigue. He had no choice.
”It felt like a Game 7,” he said. ”It was like, your mind is thinking like, `OK, besides the two I played in the Finals, you start thinking like Kyle Williams Jersey , is this it? Could this be it?’ That’s just human nature. And then the other side of my brain was like, `Let’s go make something happen. Let’s go, that’s what you here for. You’re here to make plays, you’re the leader.”’
The Cavs got a huge lift from Tristan Thompson, who played just 24 minutes in the first six games but made a rare start as Cavs coach Tyronn Lue used his 34th different starting lineup this season. Thompson added 15 points and 10 rebounds, Kevin Love made four 3-pointers, and George Hill returned after missing three games with back spasms to score 11 in 19 second-half minutes.
”Five guys in double figures,” said Lue, who has taken heat for some decisions in the series. ”But I’m just happy Tristan, because he’s been here with us for so long and been through all of the things we’ve been through over the course of the last four years, and to step in and play the way he did, I’m just so happy for him.”
Oladipo scored 30 and Darren Collison had 23 for the Pacers, who were still within four in the final minute before a cutting James scored on a bullet pass from Kyle Korver with 30 seconds left.
”Best receiver in the NBA,” Korver said of James. ”Just got to put it up there for him.”
Oladipo hit a 3 at the horn and was immediately embraced by James, who had never played a first-round Game 7 and was in jeopardy of seeing an eighth trip to the Finals end quickly.
”Honestly, I think we were the better team, and they had the best player in the world,” Pacers forward Trevor Booker said.
It was the first Game 7 in Quicken Loans Arena history Zach Parise Jersey , and Cleveland fans were on edge from the start.
A loss would not only have ended the Cavs’ season earlier than expected and their reign as three-time conference champs, but it would have pushed James closer to free agency. He’s expected to opt out of his contract in July to test the market, and there’s already a line of teams stretching from Philly to L.A. looking to sign the three-time champion.
His stay in Cleveland isn’t quite complete.
After the Cavs were rocked in Game 6, Lue knew he needed to shake things up, so he started players he trusts most. Korver got the nod along with James, Love, Smith and Thompson – the four holdovers from the three Finals teams.
”I just think in Game 7, go with the guys who’ve been here, who’ve been through it all and know what it takes,” Lue said.
Despite the loss, the Pacers felt great about their season.
”If y’all don’t respect the Indiana Pacers now, I have no respect for you,” Oladipo said. ”Nobody thought we would be here.”
Lance Stephenson, an eight-year pro in his second tour with Indiana, was especially impressed with the team’s young players.
”This team was amazing,” he said. ”We brought it every night. There was no drama all season and everybody kept a positive attitude at all times. The future is bright.”
Pacers: Both Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis fouled out. … Stephenson picked up his second technical of the series when he hit James in the head on a first-quarter drive. … Dropped to 3-6 in Game 7s, with all of The Los Angeles Kings believe they are still Stanley Cup contenders, even after being swept by the upstart Vegas Golden Knights in the first round. How close they are to that goal might be reflected in how negotiations go with defenseman Drew Doughty this summer.
General manager Rob Blake said Friday that working out a contract extension with Doughty is the team’s top priority. The Kings and Doughty can begin holding talks on July 1 Bryan Little Jersey , with his current deal set to expire at the end of the 2018-19 season.
”I always wanted to be an LA King and I want to stay an LA King,” Doughty said.
Doughty is one of three finalists for the Norris Trophy presented to the league’s top defenseman after winning it in 2016. He had 10 goals and 50 assists in his most productive NHL season yet, but Doughty believes he can still improve his scoring output.
”I wasn’t too happy with my goal totals this year,” Doughty said. ”I think I only maybe scored one or two one-timer goals, which in my career probably half of my goals are one-timer goals, so I was pretty disappointed about that this year. I can definitely improve on that and have an even better season and hopefully set some new career-highs.”
The Kings scored just three goals in four games against the Golden Knights. Developing a more reliable offense is the one glaring weakness that needs be addressed, and lifting the Stanley Cup for the third time is a reasonable goal provided it gets solved going into next season.
”Everybody is still here that was here in ’14 and almost in ’12 for that matter, too, so we’re not that far off,” center Anze Kopitar said. ”It’s going to take a lot of work, yes, but we’re not far off.”
Kopitar set personal bests with 35 goals and 57 assists while averaging a career-high 22:05 of playing time. His 92 points represented a 40-point improvement over his lackluster 2016-17, leading Kopitar to joke he is ”aging like wine.” Dustin Brown had 61 points to top his previous high of 60 set in 2007-08, his fourth season in the league. Doughty broke free with 60 points after reaching the 50-point plateau once in the previous seven seasons. Doughty’s usual defensive partner, Jake Muzzin, had 42 points. Even depth forward Trevor Lewis got into the act with 26 points and 14 goals in his most productive campaign.
Rookie Adrian Kempe was fourth on the team with 16 goals despite not finding the back of the net in the final 29 games of the regular season. Stepping in at center when Jeff Carter missed 55 games following surgery to repair a cut tendon in his ankle, Kempe showed a surprising toughness to go along with his natural quickness. If Kempe can continue to develop, he could decrease the reliance on Kopitar Muhammad Wilkerson Jersey , who will be 31 when next season starts, and the 33-year-old Carter.
”I’m pretty sure he’ll be the first one to tell you he can offer more, and that’s a learning process,” Kopitar said. ”That’s his first full year in the league. Speaking from experience, it takes a little bit of time to figure out your routines and what’s working for you and what’s not.”
LOOKING FOR DEPTH
Short of dealing in the offseason, the Kings should return essentially the same roster next season. Speedy forward Tobias Rieder is a restricted free agent, and Torrey Mitchell is an unrestricted free agent. The 25-year-old Rieder showed some chemistry with Carter, posting four goals and two assists in 20 games. Defensemen Christian Folin and Kevin Gravel are both unrestricted free agents.
HOME IMPROVEMENT NEEDED
The Kings went 23-15-3 at home, the second-fewest wins by a playoff team. It seemed like they were getting better as the season went on, going 9-4-0 down the stretch, only to lose both home playoff games and fall to 0-5 at Staples Center in their last two postseasons. Their 118 goals at home in the regular season was tied for 21st in the NHL. The power play contributed 25 percent of that output, underscoring the need for 5-on-5 improvement.
Clearly in need of more contributors on offense, center Gabriel Vilardi could be an option for the Kings next season. Selected No. 11 overall in the 2017 draft, Vilardi has been a force in the OHL playoffs with 11 goals and nine assists in his first 12 postseason games. Vilardi also has the size and 200-foot game that fit a Kings team that still emphasizes defense.
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