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James, Lue found what Cavaliers need to keep advancing

By JOE VARDON • Apr 30, 2018 at 11:30 PM

CLEVELAND — LeBron James was simply too tired to discuss it Sunday.

"I want to go home," he said.

Tyronn Lue, meanwhile, was too elated to think about it.

But the two of them know what they have now on this Cavs team for this playoffs run, having found it while surviving a whale of a test from the Indiana Pacers in seven games.

And what they found could make Cleveland a tougher out for the Raptors and maybe whoever comes next. They have to trust the vets who've been there before.

James posted his third 40-point game of the series in Sunday's decisive Game 7, a 105-101 win for the Cavs, finishing with 45 points, nine rebounds, and seven assists in 43 minutes. He would've played more, but he cramped up at the end of the third quarter and headed to the locker room for some fluids.

Lue, meanwhile, changed his starting lineup for the fourth time in this series by playing James at the point and inserting Tristan Thompson, who went from out of the rotation to 15 points and 10 rebounds.'

It was Thompson's 15th double double in the playoffs for his career. Keep that in mind.

George Hill returned from missing the last three games because of back spasms and contributed 11 points, six rebounds, and three assists — all in the second half.

Hill totally settled the Cavs when he took the court for the first time in the third quarter (he was on a minutes restriction and the team feared his back may tighten up if he sat down after an initial burn in the first half). This was his 87th career game in the playoffs.

When Lue made his first lineup change of this series, he turned back to JR Smith and Kyle Korver, two of the five players on this team who played in the 2017 Finals.

The Cavs never abandoned Kevin Love in this series, even though he gave them every right. Love was 3-of-5 in the fourth quarter for eight of his 14 points in Game 7.

The five players Lue had on this team for last year's Finals run — James, Love, Smith, Thompson (the four left from the 2016 championship team) and Korver — and a tested playoff vet in Hill. Throw in Jeff Green, who recovered from a disastrous start to the series and gave Toronto all kinds of problems in the last two games between the two teams, and you have the seven players Lue and James know they can count on moving forward.

Anything else they get from one of their younger players is gravy, and the experienced gained in this wringer of a series against the Pacers should help them.

'A total team win:' Tyronn Lue on Cavs Game 7 win over the Pacers

"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. "And the new guys just came in and I thought did a good job playing hard. (Jordan) Clarkson, I know, didn't make a shot but just playing hard defensively just competing. Same thing with Larry (Nance), doing the same thing defensively.

"So, just decided to go with the five guys that have been here and been through it all and they was able to produce for us."

What Lue's lineup will look like for Game 1 Tuesday against Toronto, he wouldn't say. It could behoove them to start Hill with James, Love, Korver and Smith as a way to neutralize Jonas Valanciunas. Green also gave the Raptors fits, scoring 15 and heping to limit DeMar DeRozan to 6-of-16 shooting in a Cavs win on March 21, and adding 12 points in a win April 3.

Either way, Green and Thompson figure to play a role.

Clarkson and Hood failed to score in Game 7. Hood didn't take a shot, and Clarkson missed all four. Nance added just a point, but contributed four rebounds.

For the series, Clarkson averaged just 4.4 points and shot .325 from the field and 2-of-14 from 3-point range. Hood was a little better (6.3 points), but was 2-of-12 from deep. Nance gave the Cavs 5.4 points and 4.4 boards.

So in the pecking order of whom to call on against the Raptors, they should be at the bottom of the rotation.

"No doubt this was a series that we can grow from," said Korver, who was quiet in Game 7 with three points on 1-of-7 shooting. "I know the Cavs are kind of used to blowing through the first couple series. We're still kind of forming ourselves. George Hill finally plays tonight and he really gave us a big boost. And we're still putting things together.

"To have to go through a tough series against a team that played really well, it doesn't guarantee us to be better in the next series, but it helps us. It definitely will help us going forward."

"I ran out of words last year:" Kyle Korver on trying to describe LeBron James' play

During the game's most critical juncture, Hill was on the court with Clarkson, Nance, Green, and Love. James was in the locker room either getting or refusing an IV (it's not clear -- he said he refused one when offered), and then he returned to the bench.

The Cavs led the Pacers by just two, and those five pushed the lead out to as many as 10 before James returned with 8:25 to go. It was 12 when Love knocked down another 3 50 seconds later.

Love entered the game shooting 7-of-31 in games 4-6.

"It was a huge stretch," James said. Two point game to start the fourth quarter. Those guys went on a run. Kev hit some big shots. He hit the pullup off G Hill's pass. Jeff Green had got the post up, was able to drive middle and hit Kev on the right wing for another 3.

Even with Jordan, Jordan was able to get into the lane. He missed a left-hand layup but he was attacking and just putting pressure on their defense. He was able to get stops too. That helped. It helped out a lot."

James' 45 points were the second most in a Game 7 win in NBA history and most since Sam Jones scored 47 in 1963. For the series, James averaged 34.4 points, 10.1 rebounds, 7.7 assists, and 1.4 steals in 41.2 minutes per game. He shot .553 from the field.

Since the playoffs began, Cavs players and Lue have called James the "best player in the world" or something very close to that eight times in comments to reporters.

They believe it to be true, for one, but it also underscores how the Cavs are set up — to run everything through him. It can be a subtle way to push back against the narrative that his teammates aren't helping him.

Kevin Love talks about another incredible game by LeBron James in Game 7 win over the Pacers

Then again, Love's 11.4 ppg in this series was the second-highest scoring average. Hill was next with 9.3 points, though he missed three full games.

The Cavs will need more than they got from James' supporting cast to go further in the playoffs.

But now they may know how to get it, and from whom.

"We started the game (seven) with a unit that we knew all five of us knew what we could get out of each other," James said. "We've been in situations before. We've played big games before so that's a comfort."

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