OAKLAND, Calif. — Carrying the Cavaliers to a decisive Game 7 of the NBA Finals won’t be enough to satisfy LeBron James. His mission isn’t complete.
Leading the Warriors to a record 73 games and being the first-ever unanimous MVP won’t mean much to Steph Curry if they lose on their homecourt. He said he has to have the biggest game of his life.
The stage is set for a winner-take-all Game 7 Sunday. This is where legends are made and legacies are cemented.
One MVP will be celebrated and another criticized for what happens when the Cavaliers and Warriors square off in Oracle Arena in perhaps the biggest NBA Game since Larry Bird and Magic Johnson met in Game 7 of the 1984 Finals.
“I need to play my best game of the year if not my career because of what the stakes are,” Curry said after Saturday’s practice. “I need to take it up another notch for Game 7 — that’s what the great ones do.”
James did the last time there was a Game 7 in the Finals. He led the Heat over the Spurs in 2013 with a 37-point, 12-rebound performance to secure his second championship. James’ teams have reached the Finals each year since, but he’s still chasing his third ring.
If it comes Sunday for the four-time league MVP, it might be the most satisfying of all.
The Cavaliers could become the first team to win the title after trailing 3-1 in the Finals. Teams in that hole are 0-32 all-time. The Cavs are just the third to force a Game 7. James also is trying to capture Cleveland’s first pro sports title since the Browns won the NFL Championship in 1964.
“I came back for a reason, and that is to bring a championship to the city of Cleveland, to northeast Ohio and all of Ohio and all Cavaliers fans in the world,” James said. “I think it’s an opportunity to do something special, and I’m fortunate to be in a position where I can be a part of something that was very special.”
The Cavaliers have supreme belief, and are following James’ lead. He scored 41 in Games 5 and 6.
The Warriors haven’t lost three consecutive games in two seasons under Steve Kerr. They’re home, where they have only lost four times all season — including Game 5.
The Cavaliers expect the Warriors to try to get the crowd frenzied early. If Curry and Klay Thompson come out hitting three-pointers and the Warriors build a big lead, it could be a long night for Cleveland. But the Cavaliers also think more pressure is on the Warriors. If their shots are off, it could be a joyous night for Cleveland.
“We’ve got nothing to lose,” Cavs forward Richard Jefferson said. “They were the best regular season team in history. They are the defending champions. It’s Game 7, it’s on their floor and they were up 3-1. If we lose this game, no one is going to be talking about anything on our side. If we win this game, people are going to be talking a lot more about the Golden State Warriors and what they didn’t do.”
It will start with Curry.
Although he said he’s played to his expectations in four of the games, Curry hasn’t been himself this series. He hasn’t lifted his game or his team the way James has.
There are rumblings that Curry is banged up and may need surgery on his knee, which he injured in the first round of the playoffs. He’s averaging 23.5 points and shooting 41.9 percent from the field. Curry led the league in scoring in the regular-season, averaging 30.1 points and shot 50.4 percent from the field.
“The only thing that matters is we have one game left,” Curry said. “If we’re standing on a podium tomorrow, who cares how we got there. We got there.”
Thompson expects a big game from Curry.
“He’s still to me the best player in the world,” Thompson said. “He’s an MVP for a reason and he’s going to come with his ‘A’ game tomorrow. We all plan to do the same and follow his lead.”
The two days off since Game 6 should help Warriors forward Andre Iguodala’s back loosen up. Last year’s Finals MVP said he’s playing. James and Curry will be under the microscope more than anyone, and the reigning league MVP believes he and the Warriors have one more great game left in them.
“We’ve had two chances already and haven’t gotten it done,” Curry said. “If we come up short, we’ll all be very, very, very disappointed.
“But we are a resilient basketball team that’s ready for this opportunity. That I’m confident in.”