CLEVELAND — LeBron James scored the final 13 points for the Cleveland Cavaliers on Saturday night, carrying his team to its 11th victory in a row, a 116-111 win over the Memphis Grizzlies. James made play after play for his team down the stretch, calmly finishing off a 34-point, 12-assist performance that left fans chanting “MVP! MVP!” during the final minutes.
“That’s when my teammates, when it’s winning time in the fourth quarter, they want me to step up and do what I do best,” James said.
In the midst of his 15th season in the league, there is an ease James feels when he knows his team wants him to take the game over late.
“It’s just experience,” James said. “I’ve been in a lot of big games, regular season, postseason, The Finals where you have to come through for your teammates. I just try to be as clutch as possible late in the game. And tonight was another one of those opportunities for me and I was able to come through for my team. It’s an honor for me to be able to even have 14 guys and they look at me personally like ‘Ok, it’s your time.’ I just try to make the right reads and make the right decisions to help us win.”
This marked the fifth time in James future Hall of Fame career that he scored his team’s final 13 points to close a game, according to Elias Sports Bureau. He is now 3-1 in those games as a Cavalier, including one game in which he scored the final 14 down the stretch. The only player to have done that more times since 2003-04 is Kobe Bryant, who did it seven times.
“It’s impressive, man,” Cavs guard Dwyane Wade said. “I’ve been around guys, I’ve been a guy, when you’re on a team and you have a guy that when the game get close that you can give him the ball and he’s going to come through. Maybe not all the time, but it seems like [most] times, it just makes the game easier. It’s like a good football team having a great field goal kicker. All they got to do is get close enough. [I’m] a Bears fan, you know Robbie Gould was going to make it for us. So it’s kind of like that. We know that he’s going to make the right play.”
Derrick Rose, who is pondering his future after yet another injury, has had positive communication with the Cavaliers, according to coach Tyronn Lue and general manager Koby Altman.
The Grizzlies, who have now lost 11 straight, clawed their way back into the game in the final minutes, forcing James to do what he did.
“In the third quarter I felt the momentum of the game starting to change a little bit,” James said. “When we went up 18 and we allowed them to get a couple 3s … I kind of seen the momentum changing and I knew at some point it was going to kind of be a game. I was able to just kind of read and react. My shooters were doing a great job, and guys were doing a great job early in the game of moving and I was getting a lot of assists. So I knew at some point [the Grizzlies] would kind of get closer to my guys, kind of dare me to score, so that’s when I got to come through for my guys.”
Having played with James in Miami and Cleveland and gone against him for years, Wade knows there isn’t much for other teams to do when he gets rolling like that.
“It ain’t much you can do about it, unless you run two at him,” Wade said. “But if you run two at him, you’re going to leave Kyle Korver at him, you’re going to leave Kevin Love open … you kind of got to live with it as he’s making them. It’s impressive, man. I just shake my head.”
“The only thing that surprised me tonight was I’ve never seen him go into a fourth quarter without one rebound,” Love added. “And he was still by far the best player on the floor … he just leads us in so many different ways. That fourth quarter [performance] doesn’t surprise me from him. We always know that we’re going to him and he’s going to make the right play, and tonight he was scoring the ball.”
James was quick to remind reporters that he won 27 games straight as a member of the Miami Heat during the 2012-13 season, so he doesn’t think the current 11-game streak the Cavs are on is much of a motivating factor.
“Not for me,” he said. “We want to just continue to win. And if we continue to play well, then we’re going to put ourselves in a position to win, and that’s all you can ask for.”