CLEVELAND — George Hill used to hate LeBron James. There's just something about James, a four-time MVP, rising up in the biggest of moments on the brightest of stages, producing video game-like performances to send opposing teams home just as they think they have a chance.
In 2012, when Hill was a member of the Indiana Pacers, James ended his season in a six-game second round as a member of the Miami Heat. In Game 4 of that series, he tallied 40 points, 18 rebounds and nine assists.
A season later, Hill and the Pacers made it to the Eastern Conference Finals only to once again have him end their season. In each of the seven games, it was James who led the night in scoring, icing the series with 32 points on just 17 shots in Game 7.
Not much would change in 2014, with Hill's Pacers losing to James' Heat once again in the Eastern Conference Finals—this time in six games.
On Friday night at Quicken Loans Arena, Hill got another taste of James in what was a close-out game for the Boston Celtics, but this time, both players were on the same side of the floor. Looking to make amends for a turnover-filled Game 5, James' final box score for the Cleveland Cavaliers read 46 points, 11 rebounds, nine assists, three steals and a block.
No table of numbers, however, will do justice to what James meant for his team. It was his seventh 40-point effort of the 2018 postseason, breaking the record Allen Iverson held for the last 17 years. And most importantly, it led to a 109-99 Cleveland win, thus providing James with another shot to one-up this barrage of performances that have left fans (and opposing players) shaking their heads.
Boston's Al Horford was modest in calling it a "great game." Celtics head coach Brad Stevens didn't hold back, referring to James' night as "special" and his fourth-quarter three-pointers as "ridiculous." No number of adjectives, however, can describe the monumental nature of what yet another Game 7 win could mean for James as the leader of this Cavaliers team.
"I thought the best was when he always put us out," Hill said to Bleacher Report when asked of James' playoff moments. "To actually see it when he's on your team, I can't even put it into words. I just think: How did he make that shot? or How did he make that move? or When did he see that pass? Just night in and night out, making big plays and hitting big shots."
The shots, they came in droves. Turnaround jumpers and lay-ins, free throws and three-pointers. No shots, however, were as big as a pair of three-pointers from the left wing late in the fourth quarter as Boston cut the Cavaliers' lead to seven with 2:47 remaining. With Jayson Tatum, 13 years James' junior, attempting to play defense, LeBron dribbled down the shot clock and buried a pair of three-pointers from the Cleveland skyline that graces the sideline near midcourt. The first extended the Cavaliers' lead back to 10; the second took the lead to 11 and led to a roar and a series of chest thumps from James.
"That guy amazes me every night," Hill said. "From the amount of minutes, the amount of years, the amount of fouls he gets on his body, what he does night in and night out is something remarkable. It's very special. I'm fortunate and blessed to have him on our side this time. To have him on our side, it's a breath of fresh air. You can't explain what he's doing night in and night out. It's something special."
According to Elias Sports Bureau (via ESPN Stats & Info), James leads all NBA players with at least five elimination games under their belts in scoring, averaging 34.1 points per contest. The Cavaliers already competed in one Game 7 this postseason, topping the Pacers in the first round with James tallying 45 points, eight rebounds, and seven assists.
Sunday's Game 7 provides James with the opportunity to take that per-game scoring average even higher, potentially providing the Cavaliers with their biggest moment since James led them back from a 3-1 deficit to the Golden State Warriors in the 2016 NBA Finals.
"I've watched him play a lot of really great games, but that one's right up there toward the top," Kyle Korver said following the win. "That was a really special performance, and we needed it.
"I think he just craves those moments. He loves those moments. When the game is on the line, when the season is on the line, he's just been rising up, and that's what great players do."
Tristan Thompson, who has been with the Cavaliers since 2011 and LeBron's return in 2014, has seen his fair share of Jamesian performances. He was there in the 2015 Finals, when James carried an injury-riddled Cavaliers team to the sixth game. He was there in 2016, when James won the city of Cleveland its first championship in 52 years with a litany of herculean efforts. And he was there during last year's Finals, when James became the first NBA player to ever average a triple-double in that series.
These nights are such old hat to Thompson that he referred to Friday night's game merely as "a good 40."
"I've seen better," Thompson joked with Bleacher Report. "This was close to the one in Toronto. What was it, Game 2 in Toronto where he just couldn't miss? Where he was shooting jumpers all day? It's right there with that. But I'll say this was the best one because it had the most on the line."
The most on the line to this point, of course, as Sunday's Game 7 sees the Cavaliers face a Boston team that has won 10 consecutive playoff games at home. There's also the possibility that James misses the Finals for the first time in seven seasons. The last time James wasn't in the Finals, he was 26 years of age and fell short against the Celtics—in Boston.
Sunday's game at TD Garden has all the cinematic makings of a contest in which James may need to do even more to will his team to a win. Regardless, at least according to the man himself, he's not letting the moment get too big.
Does he have at least one more season-saving effort in his tank? James laid out his plans for the next day, including what he described as "around-the-clock treatment" and plenty of his newest recuperation method—a good night's sleep—before doing it all over again Saturday and Sunday before tipoff.
"For me, I don't put too much added pressure on myself," James said of these high-leverage moments. "I just go out and play my game. It's a Game 7. It's something you wish you [still] 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."