Ty Lue says LeBron James' Game 7 ranks atop his career best

BOSTON -- Cleveland Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue ranked LeBron James' 35-point, 15-rebound, 9-assist, 2-block performance while playing all 48 minutes in an 87-79 Game 7 win over the Celtics in the Eastern Conference finals Sunday as "the best" of James' illustrious career.

"He's had a lot of gaudy games, but I just think Game 7, in Boston, all the circumstances that surround Boston, the history behind Boston, playing a team that's very well-coached, a good, young team that's undefeated in the playoffs at home," Lue explained, referencing the Celtics' 10-0 record in the 2018 playoffs at TD Garden, including three wins by an average of 17 points against Cleveland, prior to Game 7. "And to come on the road, where all the games have been lopsided, both home teams have pretty much been in great shape at home, and to come here in a hostile environment, Game 7, Eastern Conference finals, this and Game 7 of the NBA Finals in 2016, right there."

It was the fifth time in James' postseason career that he played all 48 minutes in what was his 235th playoff game. The first four times he did it all happened in the span of his first 10 playoff games he ever played. James' teams are 5-0 when he goes the distance.

James was asked during the 2015 NBA Finals what's the most minutes he could see himself playing in a game with the championship on the line.

"Forty, 41, 42," James answered. "In regular-season pace, I can give you all 48. I play extremely hard throughout the postseason, and I'd be cheating my team if I said I could go out and play 48 minutes. I think that's impossible."

James proved it was possible, at least in the conference finals. To top it off, he was playing on a sore right leg after Larry Nance Jr. fell into him in Game 6. James was still receiving treatment on the leg in his hotel room on Saturday night, a team source told ESPN.

"I mean, the bigger the stage, the bigger the player, and he's been doing it for us since we've been here," said Lue. "The great quote from the great Doc Rivers is, 'You always want to go into the Game 7 with the best player,' and we have the best player on our team going into a Game 7. I like our chances. And he delivered again."

James became the 13th athlete in the four major U.S. professional sports -- the NBA, NHL, MLB and NFL -- to make it to eight straight championship series, joining seven Montreal Canadiens players and five former Celtics, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

"I haven't even really kind of processed it," James said. "It was a great atmosphere tonight to be a part of that, be a part of another Game 7 on the road. Those are things, like I said, when you're done playing the game, you can only dream and wish that you could be a part of that once again. I haven't really processed the fact about going back to another Finals yet. I know that's where we're headed. I commend my teammates and my coaching staff and everybody that put the work in, even some of our staff that is not in the limelight, behind the scenes. This was a complete team effort."

It was also James' sixth straight win in a Game 7, improving him to 6-2 all-time.

"He's unbelievable," Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. "I think we've played now until May 25 and May 27 the last two years, and we started on Sept. 25. That's every day. Every day that you're totally focused on this, and he's gone past that eight straight times. It's ridiculous, and he does it at this level and with the pressure, with the scrutiny -- doesn't matter. It's just unbelievable.

"Our goal going into the series was to make him exert as much energy as humanly possible and try to be as good as we can on everybody else, who are good players. For the most part, I thought we were pretty good at that. Multiple games now in TD Garden, held them under 100, three games in the 80s -- but he still scored 35. It's a joke."

James finished the conference finals averaging 33.6 points, after putting up 34 points per game in the conference semifinals and 34.4 points in the first round.

Since the playoffs expanded to 16 teams, the only other players to average 30 points or more in three straight rounds on the way to the Finals were Allen Iverson and Michael Jordan, who did it twice.

"It's been a satisfaction in the fact that I like to be successful," James said when asked about his continued dominance of the Eastern Conference. "But more importantly, just the work that I put into it. I mean, it's an every-single-day work ethic that I have while I'm playing this game, while I have the ability to play this game at this level. I love the competition. I think about the teams that I've played over this run and the players that I've played over this run, slightly. But more importantly, me just being healthy. I've been healthy throughout this run. I put a lot of work into my body, into my craft. Being available to my teammates and being available to my franchise, the two franchises I've been with, and throughout this run is what's been more important to me than anything. Always being available.

"I'll be available for at least four more games. And we'll see what happens."