BOSTON -- On the top of LeBron James' hierarchy of career achievements are his three championships, the highest probably being the 2016 crown that included a 3-1 comeback over the team with the best regular-season record in history and ended a 52-year title drought for Cleveland.
One more victory Sunday in Game 7 in Boston, though, and getting the Cleveland Cavaliers to the NBA Finals in 2018 might be elevated right alongside those championship moments.
The NBA will be handing out a silver trophy Sunday night at TD Garden, not the gold; James has had his hands on eight of those already. But getting this one, with all the challenges, misadventures and misgivings that have engulfed the Cavs this season, would qualify as perhaps his most meaningful East title.
One last hurdle was added Saturday when the Cavs ruled Kevin Love out for Sunday with concussion-like symptoms. James will be without his All-Star teammate, as he was for all but five minutes of Game 6, to try to win a Game 7 on the road -- one of the toughest things in the game.
Dating to last summer -- when successful general manager David Griffin departed, Kyrie Irving demanded a trade and the Cavs did a deal that returned a future draft pick and an injured replacement in Isaiah Thomas -- it has been one long struggle for James to earn the right to play in his eighth consecutive Finals.
The blow-by-blow is both tedious and mind-numbing:
The failed Dwyane Wade experiment
The failed Thomas experiment
A strange experiment with Derrick Rose that included a two-week break from the team
A midseason broken hand for Love
A flurry of trade-deadline deals in February
Coach Tyronn Lue taking a leave of absence for health reasons
A series of off-court personal challenges for members of the organization
It's been a long, rocky road.
"We've had four or five seasons wrapped in one," James has said more than once this postseason. "We've talked about it all year, we know what the narrative has been about our team."
The Cavs started 29 different lineups in the regular season and might now start their fifth different playoff lineup Sunday with Love out. In all, 24 different players were on the roster during the season.
James was there for all of it, playing in all 82 games for the first time in his career and leading the league in minutes. Sunday will be his 100th game of the season, tying the most he has ever played, including all those Finals runs.
The Cavs are the lowest playoff seed, No. 4, for a James team in a decade. They barely survived a seven-game series in the first round against the Indiana Pacers, winning four games by a combined 14 points. James has never made the Finals as lower than a 2-seed and has never won multiple series in the East playoffs without home-court advantage.
Stevens on Game 7: 'It's win or go home'
Brad Stevens says that "it's an absolute blast" to prepare for Game 7, especially up against a "tremendous individual player" in LeBron James.
The Boston Celtics, who have played from in front the entire series, have proven they aren't just a team of the future, but a team of the present. They've rightfully earned their status as favorite for Game 7, if for no other reason than their impressive 10-0 record at home in the postseason. They're also significantly younger, which will play a role as the teams meet for their third game in five days.
It all stacks up to one enormous mountain James has climbed over the past six months, and particularly the past six weeks. This journey, no matter how Game 7 unfolds, has been unlike any of his others.
"For me, I don't put too much added pressure on myself. I just go out and play my game. It's a Game 7," James said. "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 doing, and I'm going to trust everything I put into it."