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Cavaliers beat Celtics to force Game 7

By JOE VARDON • Updated May 26, 2018 at 2:04 AM

CLEVELAND — Avoiding elimination in the playoffs demands greatness. There is no other choice.

Enter LeBron James, the greatest to ever do it when his team has its back against the wall.

James delivered another performance for the ages, and the Cavs overcame the loss of Kevin Love to injury to beat the Boston Celtics 109-99 on Friday to force a Game 7 in the Eastern Conference finals.

James finished with 46 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists in an astounding 46 minutes.

"Greatness," coach Tyronn Lue said of James. "Championship pedigree. Giving it his all. We needed that, especially when Kevin went down. We had to play Bron as many minutes as he had to. He delivered. He was up for the challenge. He carried us home as usual."

George Hill had the game of his 2018 postseason with 20 points. Jeff Green was fantastic in Love's place with 14 points, and Larry Nance Jr. added 10 points and seven rebounds.

The Celtics are 37-0 in franchise history in series they led 2-0. They host Game 7 and are 10-0 at home this postseason. The home team has won every game in this series.

Shaker Heights alum Terry Rozier led the Celtics with 28 points and Jaylen Brown added 27.

"We know LeBron is different than a lot of other guys, but we've got to get the job done," Rozier said. "That's no excuse, so we're looking forward to it."

Love did not score and finished with four rebounds -- forced out after a blow to the head that caused a possible concussion.

Love was out of the game with 6:58 left in the first quarter after he banged heads with Tatum while the Cavs were on defense and neither saw the other coming. Tatum was dazed by the blow, but Love crumpled to the court and held the back of his head.

Love has a previous history with concussions, suffering one in the 2016 Finals (costing him a game) and one in March, which caused him to sit another game. He will in all likelihood be in the NBA's concussion protocol, which means he'd have to pass a series of tests to play in Game 7 Sunday.

James' teams are 5-2 in Game 7s. If this group, with Love or without him, has anything left Sunday, buckle up.

James closed his night with seven consecutive points. He sat the final 57.3 seconds of the third quarter and returned for the fourth with the Cavs ahead 83-73. The Cavs were ahead by just seven when he knocked down consecutive 3s — the second with 1:40 left — and he converted a layup and was fouled with 57 seconds left for a 109-97 advantage. Cedi Osman replaced him at that point.

"I have a drive," James said. "I have a love of the game. I have a passion for the game, and while I have the opportunity to lace my shoes up and put a uniform on, then I try to go out and do my job to the best of my ability."

Even when he's hurting. James was hobbling after Nance fell into his leg with about eight minutes left in the game, and somehow scored 12 total points after it happened.

"I didn't get a good look at it either or I would've been able to avoid it," James said. "I felt some pain throughout my entire right side of my ankle into my leg.

"Luckily I was able to finish the game."

The Cavs are now 6-2 in elimination games dating to 2015. This was James' fifth game of 40 or more points in those situations. He's scored 40 or more seven times this postseason.

Coming into Friday, James was averaging 33.5 points over 21 elimination games — the best in NBA history. The scene and the jersey he wore were different, but in Game 6 of the 2012 conference finals with the Heat trailing 3-2 in Boston, James tore the roof off of TD Garden with 45 points and 15 rebounds in a Miami win.

James also passed Karl Malone (2,062 rebounds) for sixth place all-time in playoff rebounds on Friday. He shot 17-of-33 on Friday and 7-of-11 at the line.

"Sometimes I just think, 'how did he make that shot or how did he make that move or when did he see that pass?'" Hill said. "That's why I kind of take it upon myself to to say he's the best I've seen ever."

Al Horford struggled for the Celtics with just six points on 2-of-8 shooting. Jayson Tatum added 15 points.

Brown scored 15 in the first quarter (the Cavs didn't want him, of all players, to get hot early) and Boston staked itself to a 25-20 lead. With Love out and Lue's options dwindling, he rode a second unit of James, Green, Kyle Korver, Jordan Clarkson and Nance. And it changed the game.

That group rattled off a 20-4 run, and when the second quarter was over the Cavs were ahead 54-43. A 3 by Rozier with two seconds left helped Boston save a little face. With Love out, the silver lining was the Cavs could switch everything on defense, a strategy they rode the rest of the game.

James played the entire first half and ended it with 25 points, five boards and five assists. The Celtics shot 6-of-19 in the second quarter and committed nine turnovers in the half. Twelve 3s for the Celtics kept them close.

Game 7 is at 8:30 p.m. Sunday at TD Garden.

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