LeBron James suffered a frightening injury in the closing minutes of the NBA Finals Game 7 on Sunday, crashing to the floor after missing a dunk with 10.6 seconds remaining and writhing in obvious pain.
But the moment passed, LeBron got up, and the Cleveland Cavaliers made history.
The Cavaliers had taken a 92-89 lead when James came streaking through the lane and went high above the rim for a dunk attempt. But he was fouled before he could slam the ball home and fell hard to the floor, where he remained for several seconds.
It was a terrifying moment for Cleveland Cavaliers fans, watching the player who engineered a historic comeback writhing in pain on the floor, not knowing if he would be able to return for the final closing seconds.
But after medical staff tended to LeBron James, he was able to get to the line and made one out of two free throws, putting his team up by four points and sealing the win.
What started as a potentially disastrous moment ended up as the perfect metaphor for what was a wild and memorable NBA Finals. It was LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers down on the floor after four games of the series. Suffering a three games to one deficit against a Golden State Warriors team that set an NBA record with 73 regular-season wins, it appeared all but over.
That was when LeBron stepped in. The Cavs’ best player from start to finish, James summoned a second level in the final three games of the series, willing the Cavaliers back with blowout wins in Games 5 and 6 before the nail-biting Game 7 victory.
LeBron James has played in two NBA Finals Game 7s. He's won both. pic.twitter.com/CevZviFKyD— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) June 20, 2016
#LeBronJames finished with 27 points, 11 rebounds, 11 assists, 2 steals, 3 blocks. Got a Finals Game 7 triple-double for an NBA championship— InsideHoops.com NBA (@InsideHoops) June 20, 2016
The win ended 52 years of heartbreak for the city of Cleveland and capped off what was one of the best NBA Finals performances of all time.
James had a triple-double in the deciding Game 7 — scoring 27 points to go with 11 rebounds and 11 assists in 47 minutes of action — that capped off a torrid three-game stretch in which he scored 109 total points. In doing so, he helped the Cleveland Cavaliers erase a historic deficit, becoming the first team in NBA history to overcome a three games to one deficit in the finals.
As ESPN noted, the gritty performance and the comeback helped bring LeBron James to a new tier of superstar.
“It took a native son — the most important draft pick in franchise history 13 oh-so-lucky years ago, born and bred just about 30 miles down the road, in Akron, Ohio — to break the cycle of disappointment.”
“If back-to-back titles in Miami were James’ breakthrough as one of the game’s all-time greats, the championship in Cleveland represents his ascension to living-legend status.”
“Forget The Shot, The Drive, The Fumble. The Land now has The Comeback thanks to The King.”
The dominant performance was a sharp contrast to the first-ever unanimous NBA MVP. Stephen Curry had quite a pedestrian NBA Finals, with just 17 points in Game 7 and a number of key missed shots. Though he did score 38 points in Game 4 and 30 more in Game 6, Curry was prone to turnovers throughout the series and struggled on the defensive end.
But the series — and the night — was all about LeBron James. He bailed out the Cleveland Cavaliers on both ends, scoring timely baskets and getting what may have been the most important block in NBA history, going high above the rim to stop what would have been a sure layup for Andre Iguodala to give the Warriors a lead with under two minutes to go.
And fittingly, it was LeBron James being named unanimous NBA Finals MVP to cap off the effort.
[Photo by Eric Risberg/AP Images]