By Matthew Geagan, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — The Eastern Conference finals will come down to a deciding Game 7 Sunday night in Boston.
The Celtics fell to the Cavaliers, 109-99, in Game 6 in Cleveland Friday night on another epic performance by LeBron James. In what could be his final game in Cleveland, James played 46 minutes and erupted for 46 points on 17-for-33 shooting. He also pulled down 11 rebounds and dished out nine assists. It was the best performance in an elimination game of LeBron’s career.
James drained a pair back-to-back threes in the final 2:15, including one as the shot clock sounded to put Cleveland up 107-96 with 1:40 left.
“It feels good just to be able to play for another game,” James said after the victory. “Like I’ve always said, Game 7 is the best two words in sports.”
Cleveland also got 20 points from guard George Hill and 14 points from Jeff Green in 31 minutes off the bench.
The Celtics actually won the first quarter, 25-20, which had been a recipe for success in the series. But the Boston offense was a disaster in the second quarter as the Cavaliers outscored the Celtics 34-15 in the frame. The Celtics shot just 6-for-19 and a bevy of turnovers led to a 20-4 Cleveland run that Boston never recovered from.
James played all 24 minutes in the first half and exploded for 25 points, giving the Cavaliers a 54-43 lead at the break. He didn’t get his first rest until the final minute of the third quarter.
The Cleveland defense, which had been non-existent throughout the series, forced eight Boston turnovers in the first half and 13 overall for the game, leading to 11 points for Cleveland.
The Cavaliers led by as many as 16 in the third quarter before Boston was able to cut it to 10 at the end of the frame on a Terry Rozier three. Rozier cut it to a seven-point game, 87-80, with his sixth three of the night early in the fourth and finished with 28 points.
But a pair of Larry Nance Jr. put-backs never allowed the Celtics to get closer, and James put in his own miss to give the Cavaliers a 12-point lead with 6:32 to go. Then LeBron hit those back-to-back threes and Boston’s fight was over.
“It was a good game. We just didn’t do it enough to get over that hump,” C’s guard Jaylen Brown said after the loss. “We were right there and we felt ourselves right there but we had to make one more play, one more rebound.”
It was a sloppy game all around for the Celtics, who looked lost on offense for large stretches of the game. That led to some easy offense for the Cavaliers, who out-rebounded the C’s 44-31. The Cavaliers had seven offensive rebounds in the final quarter and 15 for the game.
Boston left a lot of points on the floor throughout the game, shooting just 11-for-20 from the free throw line.
Brown scored 15 points in the first quarter and finished with 27 for the game, but had just two points in that terrible second quarter for Boston. The Cavaliers double-teamed Al Horford whenever he had the ball and essentially shut down the C’s big man, holding him scoreless in the first half and to six points overall.
“I’ll be better Sunday,” Horford said after the game.
Celtics rookie Jayson Tatum struggled with Cleveland’s physicality early and finished with just 15 points.
The Cavaliers fought off elimination without Kevin Love, who left in the first quarter after colliding with Tatum. Love did not return with concussion-like symptoms, and his status for Sunday’s Game 7 is unknown. His injury led to more minutes for Green, which actually benefited the Cavaliers on Friday night.
So now the two teams will put it all on the line Sunday night for a trip to the NBA Finals. The Celtics are 10-0 this postseason on their home court.