OAKLAND -- It was only one victory, but it was a victory that many thought the Cavaliers would not be able to secure against the NBA’s best team – especially after blowing an 11-point lead in the final three minutes of regulation.
But after teammate Iman Shumpert deflected Stephen Curry’s pass in the closing seconds to clinch the Cavaliers’ 95-93 victory over the Warriors in Game 2, LeBron James slammed the ball to the floor. Then, he let out a few yells at an uncharacteristically silent Oracle Arena before hugging his teammates en route to the visitors’ locker room.
It was remarkable that following James’ triple-double – consisting of 39 points, 16 rebounds and 11 assists – he had enough energy remaining for such a robust celebration. But James said he believes he and his team's fans have a lot more left to offer in the NBA Finals with the series tied at 1-1.
A day earlier, James said he expected to play 40 to 42 minutes in Game 2.
“I play extremely hard throughout the postseason, and I'd be cheating my team if I said I could go out and play 48 minutes,” James said on Saturday. “I think that's impossible.”
On Sunday night, James proved himself wrong.
James did what he said was impossible, logging a game-high 50 minutes, 20 seconds, in the second game of the first two back-to-back overtime duels to open an NBA Finals.
After a travel day, the teams will be back at it on Tuesday in Cleveland for Game 3.
“Am I built for it? Well, of course I'm built for it,” James said with a laugh. “I mean, it's a maximum of five games left in the NBA season. So I'm ready for whatever.”
James’ broad shoulders are carrying an even greater load in the playoffs. The Cavaliers lost All-Star forward Kevin Love to a dislocated shoulder in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs. And All-Star guard Kyrie Irving is out after undergoing surgery on Saturday to repair a fractured kneecap.
The Cavaliers do not have a lot of firepower on offense, which explains why James has attempted 73 shots in two games.
On Sunday, he made 11 of 35 shots from the floor. His 83 points in two games ties Shaquille O’Neal (2000) and ranks behind only Jerry West through two games of the NBA Finals. West scored 94 points in the first two games of the 1969 series.
James is making his fifth consecutive trip to the NBA Finals. It’s his sixth appearance in the Finals and his second as a member of the Cavaliers. Before taking his talents to Miami for two championships in four seasons, James’ previous Finals appearance with Cleveland ended with the San Antonio Spurs’ four-game sweep in 2007.
The game Sunday marked the Cavaliers’ first victory in an NBA Finals game in the 45-year history of the franchise.
“It means everything,” said James, a native of Akron, Ohio. “It means everything to be able to be a part of history and to get this win for this franchise, for our city, for all the Cavs fans all over the world.”
Now, as the series shifts to Cleveland, the short-handed Cavaliers will need all the contributions from unexpected sources they can get against the deepest and most-talented team in the league.
James seemingly issued as challenge to Cavaliers fans while the noise at Oracle was still ringing in his ears late Sunday.
“These fans here are pretty loud, pretty good, really good,” James said of the Warriors’ support. “I'm looking forward to seeing our fans and I can't wait to see our fans. I've heard our fans pretty loud before. A couple instances my first postseason appearance was really loud, and me coming home against the Knicks at the start of the season was pretty good.
“But I know we can be much, much louder than any fan base in this league. I know they're getting ready, and I can't wait to see them.”