LeBron James squeezed every last ounce of effort from his misfiring Cleveland team mates on Sunday to lead the Cavaliers back to the NBA finals with an 87-79 victory over the Boston Celtics in their game seven Eastern Conference decider.
The 33-year-old has reached the finals for the eighth consecutive season but this campaign may be his crowning glory.
With point guard Kyrie Irving traded to Boston in the offseason, and a roster that required a revamp during the year, the Cavaliers were not expected to get this far, even with James operating at a different level.
The three-time NBA champion said he had focused on getting the best out of his team mates all season long.
“I tried to squeeze the orange until there was no more juice,” James told reporters after logging 35 points, 15 rebounds and nine assists while playing all 48 minutes of the series finale.
“We’ve been counted out a long time this season. It’s a heck of an accomplishment for our ball club to (to win) without our All Star forward for basically two games.”
The absence of Kevin Love, who was sidelined with a concussion suffered early in Game Six, left Cleveland without a true second scoring option alongside James.
Despite playing with one of his least reliable supporting casts, James still threw the ball around, firing passes for open three pointers despite the Cavs making just 9-of-35 from long range.
“As much as I was passing in the first half and guys weren’t knocking them down, I believed in the second half they would,” James said. “I kept faith in them and they did that.”
James has already passed Chicago Bulls great Michael Jordan as the all-time leading playoff scorer and the "greatest of all time" debate is raging once again.
Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue said that amid all the upheaval with trades in and out, James had been a true leader.
“This whole year he led by example,” added Lue. “We had a lot of guys in and out. (LeBron) played all 82 games in his 15th season. He’s unbelievable. He’s the best player in the world and I’m glad he’s on my side.”
Celtics coach Brad Stevens said getting to the finals eight straight times was "ridiculous"
“And he does it at this level with the pressure and scrutiny,” added Stevens.