“I’m ready to go home. Can we … I’m tired. I want to go home,” he said.
Seeing James abruptly head to the locker room with a minute remaining in the third quarter was a sufficiently scary moment for the Cavaliers and a home crowd of 20,562. He had played every second of the first half and had 26 points by intermission, but the stubborn Pacers sliced a 14-point deficit to 76-74 entering the final period.
It was reported on ABC’s broadcast that James was suffering from leg cramps, which were a major issue for him during the ill-fated 2014 N.B.A. Finals against San Antonio, when he was a member of the Miami Heat. James refused afterward to acknowledge that he had indeed been suffering from cramps — or even to use the word — admitting only that he had refused the team’s suggestion to intake intravenous fluids during his locker-room visit.
“Just a little minor injury,” James said.
Yet there was no denying the boost that the Cavaliers, most of all James, received at the beginning of the fourth quarter with a 10-2 spurt that Cleveland assembled without him. James had returned to the bench and was preparing to check back in when the struggling Love hit a huge 3-pointer for an 82-74 lead with 9 minutes 42 seconds to play, enabling James to keep sitting.
By the time James did come back, for the game’s final 8:25, he had benefited from a lengthy rest and the team had an 86-79 cushion, thanks to a unit featuring Love, Hill, Jeff Green, Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr.
“It was big,” Cleveland Coach Tyronn Lue said. “They bought ’Bron minutes.”
Concerns about James, at 33, being able to sustain this type of across-the-board production for three more round are inevitable after the effort he expended in this series. Then again, perhaps just a little help and good health are all James needs given the way he’s playing — at least when it comes to getting out of the Eastern Conference and securing his eighth successive trip to the N.B.A. Finals.
Entering this Game 7, James was leading the league in Player Efficiency Rating in the postseason, at 34.8. James’s teammates, through the first six games of the series, had combined to post a P.E.R. of 9.0, which would represent the lowest combined P.E.R. for one of James’s supporting casts in his 42 career playoff series.