LeBron James did not want to go back to San Francisco for a Game 7 against the Golden State Warriors.
He made sure that didn’t happen.
James produced one of his patented closeout performances, scoring 30 points on 10-for-14 shooting, collecting nine rebounds and amassing nine assists in the Los Angeles Lakers’ 122-101 series clinching victory over the defending champion Warriors in Game 6 of the Western Conference semifinals.
“Fingerprints all over the game,” Lakers coach Darvin Ham said.
James is still producing at an All-NBA level — he was just named to his 19th All-NBA team — but he is also not the same player he was even three years ago when the Lakers won the title in the Orlando bubble.
And why would he be? He’s 38 years old and in his 20th NBA season with three more seasons worth of playoff games on his Hall of Fame resume. He may have to pick his moments with more prudence.
When he picks them, it’s remarkable what he is accomplishing. No player has done what James has done at this age.
He still has the ability to lead a team to a necessary victory and to carry a team to a series win with a special game. That’s what happened Friday against the Warriors.
James is now 41-13 in games where his team can close out a series, and in those games, he averages 28.3 points, 9.2 rebounds, 7.0 assists and shoots 49.3% from the field, according to statsmuse.com.
When he senses a series victory, he meets the moment more often than not.
Beating Golden State marks a remarkable turnaround for the Lakers, who started the season 2-10, and on March 18, the Lakers were 34-37 and in 11th place with 11 games remaining. They had to win a play-in game just to get into the playoffs, and then knocked off second-seeded Memphis in the first round.
Against the Warriors, and in Game 6 specifically, Los Angeles relied on its sound defense. Golden State shot 37.9% from the field and 27.1% on 3-pointers. Steph Curry scored a game-high 32 points, but Klay Thompson had just eight, and they were a combined 6-for-26 on 3s. Donte DiVincenzo was the only other Warrior in double figures in points.