By Harry Allison
The Sixers will have to wait a little longer before they can amp up their pursuit of LeBron James this offseason.
That’s because the King just extended his and the Cavs’ season.
He scored 46 points as the Cleveland Cavaliers beat the Boston Celtics, 109-99, to force a Game 7 of their Eastern finals series.
The real possibility that James was playing his last game in Cleveland hung over the game — and this city — in the hours leading up to tipoff.
James, 33, has said several times since coming home in 2014 that he wants to retire with the Cavaliers, but fans are uneasy because he can opt out of his $35.6 million contract this summer and test free agency.
And, of course, he left once before in 2010, bolting for Miami.
James has said he will sit down with his family after the season ends to plot his next move, and he’s already being courted. Teams in Philly, Los Angeles and New York are dreaming about adding him to their rosters.
So James, playing in perhaps his final game for the Cavaliers in Cleveland, delivered another sensational performance — he added 11 rebounds and nine assists while playing all but two minutes — to avoid elimination and delay any decisions about his future.
Now he has a chance to make his eighth straight finals.
“It feels good just to be able to play for another game,” James said. “Like I’ve always said, Game 7 is the best two words in sports.”
This back-and-forth series, in which home court has meant everything, will have a climatic conclusion Sunday at TD Center, where the Celtics are 10-0 this postseason.
“We have one game to be able to compete for a championship, and what more could you ask for?” James said. “If I’d have told you at the beginning of the season we only needed one game to make the N.B.A. finals, we’d take it.”
George Hill added 20 points and Jeff Green 14 for the Cavaliers. They won their eighth straight at home and will play their second Game 7 of these playoffs.
Terry Rozier paced the Celtics with 28 points, and Jaylen Brown had 27.
The Celtics were still within 7 in the final three minutes before James made consecutive 3-pointers, punctuating the second by pounding his chest with both fists and screaming along with 20,562 others.
Just for good measure, he added a 3-point play and then was taken out of the game to a rousing ovation and chants of “Cavs in 7!”
“Just a lot of heart, a lot of grit, bring resilient,” James said.
Cavs star Kevin Love went out with a head injury in the first quarter, forcing Cavaliers Coach Tyronn Lue to juggle his rotations and keep James on the floor longer than he wanted to. James played the first 35 minutes without a break and then endured the final eight while nursing a sore lower leg.
Backed by a sea of towel-waving fans wearing white “Cleveland Whatever It Takes” T-shirts, James did just that to push the series to Boston, where he has had some of his biggest moments on the renowned parquet floor.
In 2014, he had 45 points, 15 rebounds and 5 assists in Game 6 for Miami, which went on to win Game 7 and the NBA title. He also scored 45 in a Game 7 loss for Cleveland in 2008, and he now has a chance to add to his stunning résumé if he can get the Cavaliers to a fourth consecutive finals.
James has also had some bitter memories in Boston. He lost Game 6 in the East semifinals in 2010 to the Celtics and was soon on his way to joining the Heat.
The game began ominously for the Cavaliers as Love was forced to leave following a violent collision with Boston’s Jayson Tatum.
Love and Tatum were away from the ball and didn’t see each other until it was too late. They banged heads, and both immediately dropped to the floor, with Love raising his left arm as if to signal he needed help.
As Love stayed down, the Cavaliers huddled around him. He was helped off and walked to the bench unsteadily before heading to the locker room for further treatment and evaluation.
The Cavaliers announced an hour later, at halftime, that Love was being evaluated for a concussion and wouldn’t return.