Tony Dejak/Associated Press
CLEVELAND — For the first time this postseason, LeBron James looked human. Seated outside his locker following the Cleveland Cavaliers‘ 105-101 Game 7 victory over the Indiana Pacers, James’ superhero facade appeared to wear thin.
Shirtless with giant bags of ice taped to his knees as Nas’ “Street Dreams” echoed from a speaker near his submerged feet, James had the look of a man who crossed the finish line on empty.
Earlier in the evening, James was caught on camera saying he was playing all 48 minutes in the now-or-never contest. He played 43 minutes, kept off the floor momentarily due to leg cramps that struck late in the third quarter and carried into the game’s final period.
Staring at his first-ever first-round elimination, James responded with 45 points (on 16-of-25 shooting), nine rebounds, seven assists and four steals. It’s the kind of line that would be lauded for days if not coming from the same man who produced similar lines all through the first round of the playoffs.
As he reclined in his chair and ate a postgame meal, several teammates and friends came over to his locker, one by one as if it were a scene from The Godfather, congratulating the four-time MVP on yet another job well done.
“Good s–t,” Cavs center Tristan Thompson said as he detoured from the showers to his locker. Then it was Kendrick Perkins. Long-time friend and current director of scouting Brandon Weems took his turn speaking with James before the conversation was taken over by James’ personal trainer, Mike Mancias.
A cavalcade of men, simultaneously congratulating and marveling as James pulled his team through an entire seven-game series, each game seemingly going to the brink, doing so with a sequence of box scores that only served to outdo the last.
“I just try to do whatever it takes to help us win, and I felt like I just wanted to do that again in this series,” James said of his seven-game stint of heroics. “[I] just try to make plays offensively and defensively, continue to trust my guys and trust myself, and trust how much work I’ve put into my game. So it’s definitely good to be able to make plays and help yourself advance.”
That James did. Despite being on the target end of an aggressive Pacers defensive scheme, James battled throughout. James’ 45 points on Sunday marked the third time he scored 40-plus points in the series. In the se