Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that LeBron James had averaged 46 minutes per game in the playoffs. He has averaged 41 minutes per game.
CLEVELAND — By the time LeBron James walked out of the Cleveland Cavaliers’ locker room following his indestructible performance in Game 6, the calendar had already turned to Saturday. That didn’t stop James from giving a shout-out to National Wine Day, which oenophiles like himself celebrated on May 25.
The health benefits of red wine are well known, and as James prepares for Sunday’s Game 7 in the Eastern Conference Finals against the Boston Celtics, he might need a glass or two.
The Cavaliers could potentially be without all-star Kevin Love, who left Friday’s game after a head-to-head collision with Boston rookie Jayson Tatum. Love has a history of concussions, last entering the league’s NBA concussion protocol in March. Without Love, James had to take on a heavier load.
In Game 6, James fought off elimination by logging 46 minutes and carrying the Cavaliers with 46 points (17 of 33 from the floor, including 5 of 7 from three-point range), 11 rebounds and nine assists. However, by Sunday, with his streak of seven straight NBA Finals on the line and Love possibly on the sidelines, James might have do even more.
“Just try to put myself in the best possible shape each and every year to be able to go for the long haul,” James responded when asked about his stamina. “Now, obviously [if] I get a minute, couple minutes here, per quarter, would be great, but it’s not what our team is built on right now. Our team is built on me being out on the floor to be able to make plays, not only for myself but make plays for others. It’s just the way we’ve been playing, and we’ve been succeeding with it.”
Through these playoffs, the 33-year-old James has averaged 41 minutes per game. For James, rest happens during the long timeouts in which the national broadcast attempts to cram in as many advertisements as possible. But other than a few breaks here and there, James rarely leaves the game.
Even Friday night after teammate Larry Nance Jr. accidentally rolled into James’ knee in the fourth quarter, he waved off a timeout while walking gingerly back to the offensive end. Coach Tyronn Lue listened and kept James on the floor until the outcome was secured with 57 seconds remaining.
After the 109-99 victory, Lue scoffed at a reporter’s question about having concern for his remaining healthy players’ energy levels.
“Oh, man, come on. We ain’t got no choice. One game from The Finals, Game 7? I mean — yeah, I can get out there and do something for that,” said Lue, who played 10 seasons in the NBA. “Come on, got to be ready. Ready to play. No excuses. Game 7 to go to the NBA Finals. We’ve got to be ready.”
Mostly, James has to be ready. He has grown accustomed to shouldering burdens over the course of his playoff career.
In his first NBA Finals appearance in 2007, James had to play nearly 43 minutes per game against the San Antonio Spurs. During the 2015 postseason, former teammate Kyrie Irving fractured his knee cap in the opening game of the Finals and Love (shoulder injury) never played a minute in a matchup the Golden State Warriors won.
However, if the Cavaliers’ supporting cast matches its home effort inside TD Garden, then James might have some help. George Hill scored 20 points Friday. Tristan Thompson didn’t make much of an offensive impact, but anchored the team defense that held Boston’s frontcourt of Al Horford and Aron Baynes to six points. Also, Jeff Green contributed 14 off the bench as Love’s replacement.
“When K-Love went down, Jeff Green stepped in right away, was huge for us. We need that from him, especially Game 7,” Thompson said. “Larry was huge. His energy was off the charts, so that’s what we’re going to need from everyone. Everyone put their best foot forward on Sunday.”