It’s been a little over 10 years since LeBron James lost a Game 7.
Exactly 3,657 days ago, James and the Cleveland Cavaliers walked into TD Garden and couldn’t overcome the eventual NBA champion Boston Celtics, falling 97-92 in the 2008 Eastern Conference semifinals.
Since then James has gone 5-0 in Game 7’s. He’s averaging 34.9 points per game on 48.4 percent shooting, while also pulling down 9.1 rebounds and dishing out 5.1 assists in winner-take-all showdowns. In his last Game 7, a first-round victory over the Indiana Pacers, James scored 45 points, grabbed nine rebounds, notched seven assists and four steals to become the first player in NBA history to score 45 points in multiple Game 7’s.
The first time? You guessed it, 2008 in Boston.
On Sunday, James and the Cavs will head back to TD Garden for another Game 7, this time with a shot at the NBA Finals on the line. The 33-year-old star was sensational in Friday’s 109-99 Game 6 win in Cleveland, posting a near triple-double to stave off elimination.
With his 46-point outburst in Game 6, James is averaging 34.1 points per game in elimination games in his career. And after being crushed for “not being clutch” early in his career (even though he was), King James knows what he will bring in Game 7.
“Just go out and trust what you built on all year,” James said, via the Cavaliers. “For me, I don’t put too much added pressure on myself. I just go out and play my game. You know, it’s a Game 7, it’s something that you wish you had when you’re done playing, but more than that, it’s just basketball for me. I know what I’m capable of and I’m going to trust everything I put into it.”
James will need to add another vintage game to his illustrious resume Sunday if he plans to continue dragging the Cavaliers’ collection of unreliable role players to what would be his eighth consecutive NBA Finals appearance and the Cavs’ fourth.
The Celtics are a perfect 10-0 at home this postseason. While they have struggled on both ends of the floor away from TD Garden, Boston has looked untouchable on the parquet floor. They have a 110.5 offensive rating and a 99.8 defensive rating at home for a net rating of plus-10.7. Compare that to a 100.7 offensive rating and a 111.4 defensive rating on the road for a minus-10.7.
It’s been quite the Jekyll and Hyde act for the Celtics depending on the game’s locale. And while they’ll certainly be happy Game 7 is back at TD Garden, Terry Rozier knows they can’t hang their hat on what is sure to be a raucous Boston crowd.
“At the same time, we still gotta come out aggressive and play Celtics basketball,” Rozier said, via NBA TV. “We can’t just rely on us being at home for an excuse for it’s going to be easy. It’s not. You know, like I said, we’re looking forward to it, we gotta come out aggressive and make things happen.”
May 18, 2008, was the last time James lost a Game 7. May 13, 2010, was the last time the Celtics eliminated him from the NBA playoffs. A 94-85 win at TD Garden that sent the C’s to the Eastern Conference finals and caused James to pack his bags and head to the Miami Heat.
That same specter will be hanging over Sunday’s Game 7 like the 17 championship banners that hang from the TD Garden rafters.
James is expected to opt out of his contract and become a free agent this offseason, and with each minute he has spent carrying this version of the Cavs, it has become seemingly more likely he will again depart Northeast Ohio.
But not before one more Game 7 in a building that has seen the best and worst of him throughout his career. One more collision with the Celtics.
Heavy lies the head that wears the crown. James has worn it for seven straight seasons, from Miami to Cleveland, and he has shown no desire to relinquish it willingly despite the supporting cast he’s saddled with.
Can the Celtics protect the parquet and finally vanquish the King?
James has become a Herculean figure, surpassing every expectation that’s been put on him, and there’s no doubt he’ll deliver again Sunday. After all, it’s been a decade since the last time he lost a Game 7.
But that too was in Boston.