The Toronto Raptors‘ most feared opponent says he’s exhausted following a taxing seven-game opening round series. But that shouldn’t lull the team into a false sense of security ahead of round two.
“I’m burnt right now,” LeBron James told reporters when asked about his upcoming matchup against the Toronto Raptors following the Cleveland Cavaliers‘ game seven victory on Sunday afternoon. “I want to go home,” he added.
James said he was pushed to the brink by the Indiana Pacers, who are one of the more gruelling, physical opponents you’ll come across in the East.
But is he vulnerable? Hardly.
James still managed to produce because, well, he’s a legendary talent who can push himself beyond the physical limits of most athletes.
In the first round, James logged more than 41 minutes per game. For context, that’s longer than similarly high-usage stars like Russell Westbrook (39 mpg) and Anthony Davis (37.8 mpg), and nearly four minutes more than the Raptors’ DeMar DeRozan, who ranks fourth in the NBA in usage rate this post-season.
He may have pushed himself to exhaustion by game seven, but James was flat-out incredible throughout much of the series. Forced to carry his team in order to advance, he averaged an NBA-best 34.4 points in round one, along with 10 rebounds, 7.7 assists, 1.4 steals, and a block per game.
Gaudy numbers and spectacular results, but man did he have to work for it.
There’s no question the first round was a gruelling series for James, and while he has continually defied logic, it’s hard to imagine anybody keeping up that kind of physical strain.
For the last two seasons — years 14 and 15 in the NBA — James led the league in minutes per game for the first time in his career, an indication of just how much is required of him for the Cavs to succeed with their current roster. What’s more is that this season, for the first time ever, he played all 82 games of the regular season.
Since joining the league, James has played 1,143 regular season games and 224 playoff games — both tops among all players.
It’s taken a toll on the greatest player of his generation, without doubt, but, to the likely dismay of a Raptors team hoping to catch James when he’s vulnerable, none of that seems to matter.
In game seven on Sunday, LeBron was forced to leave the game briefly ahead of the fourth quarter due to cramping in his legs. Back in the locker room, Cavaliers doctors wanted to administer an IV, James said, and he refused the treatment.
Of course, James is also a legendary worker, and, much like the Raptors have spent the past year preparing for this opportunity to finally advance past ‘the King’ in the post-season, James too has been preparing for this exact scenario of sustaining an incomparable amount of wear and tear while still performing at a Hall of Fame level.
He reportedly spends upwards of $1.5 million per year maintaining his body to withstand the physical demands of carrying a team through multiple playoff rounds each year.
Based on the results, it’s money well spent.
He and the Cavaliers will now have a grand total of one day off before returning to battle. In Toronto on Tuesday, they’ll face a Raptors team whose depth allows them to throw fresh bodies on the floor and keep up a pace that few teams — especially Cleveland — simply can’t match.
“They’re a great basketball team,” James said of the Raptors. “They’ve got 10-12 guys that can come in & produce every single night. We know the head of the snake is DeRozan & Lowry but those guys off the bench come in with the same attitude & the same confidence as the starters.”
The Raptors have yet to advance past James and the Cavaliers, who have knocked Toronto out of the playoffs each of the past two seasons. Game one tips off on Tuesday night at the Air Canada Centre.