Game 7 decider on Sunday in Boston after James scores 46 points in 109-99 win for Cleveland
LeBron James inspires Cleveland Cavaliers to set-up series decider with Boston Celtics
LeBron James produced another epic play-off performance on Friday as the Cleveland Cavaliers stayed alive in the NBA play-offs with a 109-99 victory over the Boston Celtics.
Trailing the Celtics 3-2 and facing elimination in the Eastern Conference finals, the Cavaliers triumphed in a bruising encounter on their home floor to knot the best-of-seven series at 3-3 and force game seven in Boston on Sunday.
In order to punch their ticket to a fourth straight NBA Finals, the Cavs will have to be the first team to win on the road in the series, and the first to beat Boston at home in this post-season.
"It feels good just to be able to play for another game," said James, who has been to seven straight NBA Finals with Miami Heat and Cleveland.
"'Game seven' is the best two words in sports and for us to be on the road in another hostile environment where we've had no success up to this point, we should relish the opportunity."
James scored 46 points with 11 rebounds and nine assists. It was his seventh 40-point performance of the 2018 play-offs, tying Chicago Bulls great Michael Jordan (1989) for second-most 40-point games in a single post-season behind the eight of Jerry West in 1965.
James also passed Karl Malone for sixth place all-time in play-off rebounds.
"Greatness," Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said simply of James. "Championship pedigree, giving it his all."
James scored 25 points in playing every minute of the first half, when the Cavaliers absorbed the blow of losing Kevin Love to a possible concussion and then out-scored the Celtics 34-18 in the second quarter to take control of the game.
Cleveland led by as many as 16 in the third quarter, but the advantage was down to seven with 2:47 to play when James unleased back-to-back three-pointers and converted a layup to push the Cavs lead back to 109-96.
He departed the game with less than a minute remaining to a frenzied ovation.
"Best player in the game," Celtics coach Brad Stevens said of James.
Of the late three-pointers that doomed his team, Stevens said there was little more the Celtics could have done.
"Great defence by (Jayson) Tatum, great shots by LeBron," Stevens said. "Tremendous. I thought the second was wasn't quite as contested maybe as the first one. The first one, that was ridiculous."
George Hill scored 20 points for Cleveland. Jeff Green added 14 off the bench, Larry Nance had 10 and Kyle Korver and Jordan Clarkson chipped in six apiece as the Cavs reserves helped fill the void left by Love's early exit.
Love, who missed a game in March with concussion symptoms, banged heads with Tatum and dropped to the court in the first quarter. He had to be helped to the sideline and at half time the Cavaliers said he would not return.
"Guys really chipped in and helped in the absence of Kevin, and LeBron brought us home as usual," Lue said. "We needed him to be big and he was big."
But the Cavs got scare in the fourth when James went down hard on a drive tangling with Nance and clutching his right leg in obvious pain.
After a few moments he rose gingerly and continued.
"He just fought through everything tonight," Lue said.
Terry Rozier scored 28 points to lead the Celtics, who are trying to return to the NBA Finals for the first time since 2010. Jaylen Brown scored 27 for Boston, who led by five at the end of a spirited first quarter but finally had no answer for James.
Although they're unbeaten at home in the play-offs, Rozier said the Celtics cannot afford to be complacent.
"We've still got to come out aggressive and play Celtics basketball," he said. "We can't just rely on being at home for an excuse that it's going to be easy. It's not."
The winner of the series will take on either the reigning champion Golden State Warriors or Houston Rockets in the championship series. The Rockets lead the Western Conference finals 3-2.