His­tory in the mak­ing for James

His daz­zling play in Fi­nals has Cava­liers two wins from first ti­tle

Los Angeles Times - - SPORTS - By Mike Bres­na­han

CLEVE­LAND — A huge ban­ner is back in place on a build­ing across the street from Quicken Loans Arena, where Huron and On­tario streets com­bine to form a Y.

It was taken down al­most four years ago, when a fa­vorite son punc­tured the trust of his home­town state and bas­ket­ball jer­seys were burned not far from it. But a sim­i­lar black-and-white im­age was put up again af­ter LeBron James left Miami to re­turn to the Cleve­land Cava­liers last sum­mer.

You don’t see his face, only the No. 23 on his back and his trade­mark pregame tal­cum toss. The ban­ner is 10 sto­ries tall. It might need to be even big­ger.

James is play­ing larger than ever in the NBA Fi­nals, “so out­side the box right now” by his own ad­mis­sion that it’s al­ready his­toric and

the Cava­liers hold a 2-1 lead over the fa­vored Golden State War­riors.

James is av­er­ag­ing 41 points through three games, the most by any­one this early in Fi­nals his­tory, and con­tin­ues to prop up a team with­out in­jured All-Stars Kyrie Irv­ing and Kevin Love.

He has scored, as­sisted, or cre­ated 200 of the Cava­liers’ 291 points, ac­cord­ing to Syn­ergy Sports Tech, an im­mense out­put for any­body, even James.

“You [ask] how much it’s taken out of me. I want it to take it all,” a bleary-eyed James said Wed­nes­day. “You [me­dia] guys can see I’m not get­ting much sleep right now but I’m OK with that. Be­ing the sole leader of a team and a fran­chise, it’s tax­ing, but I ac­cept the chal­lenge. I ac­cept it all.”

James has no choice if he wants to avoid fall­ing to 2-4 over­all in the Fi­nals.

The rag­tag Cava­liers crew he’s drag­ging from game to game would be laughed at by any Hol­ly­wood script screener.

There’s the Aussie who went un­drafted out of tiny St. Mary’s Col­lege, but re­porters from his coun­try now won­der if he should be knighted back home for his in­spi­ra­tional play­off run. Let’s call him Matthew Dellave­dova. Sure.

And the wild shooter who makes fans stand in an­tic­i­pa­tion ev­ery time he throws up a shot, even if there’s only a mi­nor chance an off-bal­ance, highly con­tested three-point at­tempt falls true? His name will be J.R. Smith.

We’ll also give James a de­fense-minded back­court mate with a retro ’90s hair­cut (Iman Shumpert) and a plod­ding cen­ter ac­quired ear­lier this year af­ter av­er­ag­ing a sin­gle-sin­gle for lowly Den­ver (Ti­mofey Moz­gov).

James can’t do any­thing less than av­er­age 47.3 min­utes, plus 12 re­bounds and 8.3 as­sists if the Cava­liers want to win. So he does.

There’s some­thing ex­tra driv­ing James but he won’t say what it is. He has cryp­ti­cally re­ferred to be­ing in­spired by a “se­cret mo­ti­va­tion” and again de­clined to re­veal it Wed­nes­day.

He ad­mit­ted to telling for­mer Miami team­mate Dwyane Wade, but Wade “ain’t gonna tell you guys,” James jok­ingly told me­dia mem­bers.

The eas­i­est guess: James is push­ing him­self for the city of Cleve­land, some­times de­ri­sively called the “Mis­take by the Lake” be­cause of its pol­lu­tion his­tory and lack of ma­jor pro cham­pi­onships. The have been no Su­per Bowls, no NBA tro­phies and World Se­ries rings only twice (1920 and 1948).

Or maybe it’s not so se­cret.

“It was a bit­ter mo­ment when I left the first time, but it’s a sweet mo­ment here now that I’m back. Both sides had an op­por­tu­nity to kind of miss each other,” James said. “I know the fans are ex­cited and ex­u­ber­ant about me be­ing back.

“Not only just about me — this team, putting this team back in the po­si­tion where they can com­pete and have some­thing to talk about.”

One of the main talk­ing points, tied for first with “What hap­pened to the War­riors’ of­fense?” in this se­ries is whether James can sus­tain it.

His play­ing time, spread thickly over three close games, hasn’t af­fected him in a neg­a­tive way other than 31.4% shoot­ing ac­cu­racy in Game 2.

“He’s do­ing a good job of be­ing smart when he’s choos­ing his attack points and when he’s try­ing to con­serve en­ergy,” said War­riors for­ward An­dre Iguo­dala, given the task of guard­ing James most of the time. “He’s play­ing in­side, out­side, try­ing to get to the line, mix­ing it up a lit­tle bit. But from our per­spec­tive, we’re try­ing to do the same things — keep throw­ing bod­ies at him. Hope­fully it will swing our way.”

With so lit­tle room for er­ror or in­jury, the Cava­liers re­ceived pos­i­tive med­i­cal re­ports on two mem­bers of James’ sup­port staff.

An MRI exam on Shumpert showed noth­ing more than a bruised right shoul­der, and Dellave­dova con­tin­ued to re­cover from cramps and de­hy­dra­tion. Both are ex­pected to play Thurs­day in Game 4, Cleve­land Coach David Blatt said.

Dellave­dova has turned into Cleve­land’s sec­ond-best player in the ab­sence of Irv­ing and Love. His 20 points were dif­fer­ence-mak­ers in Game 3 but his 38 min­utes were ap­par­ently too much. He was at a hos­pi­tal an hour af­ter the game, an IV in his arm, and car­ried two cups of flu­ids as he walked around Wed­nes­day af­ter­noon.

“The tank is low and we’re do­ing ev­ery­thing we can to fill it back up,” Blatt said.

Two more vic­to­ries sep­a­rate the Cava­liers from their first true bas­ket­ball joy since form­ing in 1970.

And James from one of the great­est feats in 59 years of the Fi­nals.

Rocky Widner Getty Images

L eBRON JAMES re­turned to Cleve­land and so did his larger-than-life ban­ner near the Cava­liers’ arena.

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