CLEVELAND — LeBron James doesn’t know what playing like a man possessed means. Playing a complete, all-around game is all James knows, and he thinks it will be enough for the Cavaliers to get back in the NBA Finals against the Warriors.
James didn’t agree with Knicks president Phil Jackson saying the Cavaliers superstar needed to take a page out of Michael Jordan’s book in Game 3 Wednesday night. Speaking at an event Monday, Jackson said Michael Jordan “was a man possessed” in leading the Bulls back from an 0-2 deficit against the Knicks 23 years ago in the conference finals and that James needs to “put his cap on” and “step beyond” being a team player and take over the series.
“What does that actually mean?” James said after practice Tuesday at Quicken Loans Arena. “For me to go out and be who I am and play as true to the game and as hard as I can and try to lead this team, that’s who I am. I’m not Michael. I’m not Ali. I’m not nobody else that’s done so many great things for sport. I am who I am, and if I’m able to go out and put together a game like that, it wasn’t because I was possessed. It’s because I worked on my craft all season long and that’s the result of it.
“Phil’s a great coach. Mike’s a great player. But I am who I am.”
James understands what the Cavaliers are facing in Game 3, which they may play without Kevin Love, who is in the concussion protocol. James is calling it “a must win” and “a do-or-die” game.
The Cavaliers are undefeated at home this postseason, but that doesn’t guarantee them anything in this series. If the Warriors win Wednesday, the series is all but over. No team in NBA history has come back from an 0-3 deficit to win a series. Only three times in 31 in Finals history has a team climbed out of an 0-2 hole to win the championship.
Faced with this challenge, Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue is considering lineup and rotation changes whether Love is available or not, but he wouldn’t reveal his plans.
“It’s going to be next man up because it’s a must win for us,” James said. “I’m the leader of this team and we have other guys that are ready to step up. It’s a do-or-die game for us.
“We can’t afford to go down 3-0, especially against this team. It will be more adversity if we got to that point, which I don’t believe we will.”
James doesn’t necessarily think he has to do more in Game 3. But he said he has to be better than his 17-point, seven-turnover performance in Game 2 on Sunday.
“I try to do whatever it takes to help our team win,” James said. “I do everything offensively, defensively, getting guys involved, rebounding, everything. So my game doesn’t waver one way or the other. I’m not a pure scorer. I’m not an all-assist guy. I’m not just a rebounder. I do everything. I said after Game 2 that I’ve got to play better, but as far as my numbers go, I don’t worry about that.”
As a team, the Cavaliers have to play better than the first two games. Kyrie Irving hasn’t played well, on either end of the floor. J.R. Smith has been a non-factor, totaling eight points. Collectively, the Cavaliers have to give maximum effort defensively against the perpetually moving Warriors.
The Cavaliers were beaten by 33 points in Game 2 and by a total of 48 points in the two games at Golden State, with Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson totaling 55 points. If they get going, things could get even uglier for Cleveland.
“We know they’re going to come out with a sense of urgency,” Curry said. “We need to have that same mentality. We can’t get complacent. We can’t celebrate anything because we haven’t accomplished anything yet. It would be good for us to have the same mindset [James] described, regardless of the 2-0 lead.”