CAVA­LIERS... CHARGE!

LeBron leads Cavs through Pac­ers 105-101

West Hawaii Today - - Front Page - BY TOM WITHERS

CLEVE­LAND — LeBron James wasn’t ready to go home or to Philadelphia or Los An­ge­les.

He’s head­ing to Toronto, 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, 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, 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 three­time 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.

TRUST FAC­TOR

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.

PROUD PAC­ERS

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.”

AP PHOTO/ TONY DE­JAK

Cleve­land Cava­liers' LeBron James, left, drives past In­di­ana Pac­ers' Lance Stephen­son in the first half of Game 7 in a first-round play­off se­ries on Sun­day in Cleve­land.

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