CLEVELAND – LeBron James has watched “The Godfather” trilogy over and over during these playoffs. The Oscar-winning films about crime, family, honor — and revenge — soothe and motivate him. He can’t get enough.
But while he’s not tired of the classic films, there’s a final scene in the NBA Finals he has witnessed too many times, and if he can avoid it again Thursday night, there will be an offer he and the Cleveland Cavaliers can’t refuse.
“Two of the best words ever,” James said, “Game 7.”
On the strength of a historic performance by James and Kyrie Irving in Game 5, the Cavs saved their season and are home for Game 6 with a second chance to even this unpredictable series against the defending champion Golden State Warriors, who will have forward Draymond Green back from his one-game suspension for bad behavior.
James has been in this spot before.
So have the Warriors.
It was on June 16 last year when they closed out a short-handed Cavaliers squad in six games to win their first title since 1975. The Warriors and their families and friends partied into the early morning hours in Quicken Loans Arena, spraying champagne around their small locker room and adding another close-but-no-title entry to Cleveland’s 52-year-old list of sports misery.
The Cavs, who are trying to become the first team in history to overcome a 3-1 deficit in the finals, can’t bear the thought of Stephen Curry and Co. doing it to them a second time.
“No matter where it gets done, stopping them is the point,” Cavs guard J.R. Smith said. “If they win it here, it’s going to hurt. If they get it there, it’s going to hurt.”
To avoid any pain whatsoever, and pack this series up for a third trip to Northern California, the Cavs can’t count on James and Irving to duplicate their effort in Game 5, when they scored 41 points apiece and had a hand in 97 as Cleveland won 112-97. It would help if they got something from Kevin Love, who scored just 2 points and added only three rebounds in 33 minutes.
Although the Cavs face an unnerving task trying to unseat the Warriors by beating them three times in a row, James is no stranger to the challenge.
In the 2013 finals, he twice helped Miami stave off elimination against San Antonio before the Heat beat the Spurs in seven games. James, who is 2-4 in the finals, has saved his best performances for close-out games, averaging 32.4 points, 11 rebounds and 6.6 assists in 15 of them. His teams are 8-7.
While others wilt in do-or-die games, James thrives.
“I’ve just been fortunate enough to make some shots, for one,” he said, explaining his calm under pressure. “Grab some rebounds, find some teammates. Guys put the ball in my face and get some blocks, and guys throw some errant passes and I’m able to get some steals. It’s that simple. It’s not easy, but it’s that simple.
“I guess the last few elimination games it’s been pretty good, and hopefully I can continue that tomorrow.”
If he does, there’s a long flight to Oakland awaiting him.
Plenty of time to watch his favorite movie again, too.
Bogut done for series
Golden State center Andrew Bogut will need six to eight weeks to recover from a left knee injury, ruling him out for the remainder of the NBA Finals and almost certainly affecting his Olympic plans as well.
The Warriors are calling it an “impaction injury” that resulted in serious bone bruises. Bogut will not need surgery, the team said.
Bogut was hurt Sunday night about 90 seconds into the third quarter when he blocked a shot by the Cleveland Cavaliers’ J.R. Smith, then landed awkwardly.
It’s a major blow to Golden State’s defensive scheme. Bogut blocked five shots in Game 2 of the finals, and the Warriors’ defensive numbers are typically much better when he is on the floor.
Bogut started each of the first five games of the finals, though hasn’t logged big minutes. He averaged 3.2 points and three rebounds in 12 minutes per game in the series.