CHICAGO - Did you really think LeBron James was going to be eliminated in the opening round of these 2018 NBA playoffs after going undefeated in his previous 13 first-round series?
Did you really think the King will his cede his home court and allow a hostile army from Indiana to pillage the Quicken Loans Arena in a Game Seven where his record is a sturdy 6-2?
If you entertained those thoughts, no matter how fleetingly, shame on you.
In a performance that inspired his believers and mesmerized the doubters, James dominated Game Seven of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals on Sunday afternoon in Cleveland where the Cavaliers finally eliminated the annoying Pacers.
James, wearing the armor of a gold and burgundy No. 23 jersey, devastated the Pacers for 45 points, nine rebounds and seven assists. He made 16 of 25 field goals, two of three triples and 11 of 15 free throws. He also had four steals in 43 minutes of excellence.
The King woke up on Sunday facing elimination for the 21st time in his 15-year Hall-of-Fame career, At age 33 he knew the sunset was dawning, but exit number 21 will have to wait another day. It sure wasn't going to happen in his home turf, not in front of 20,562 of his closest friends.
"I guess, in a sense, I had to do what I had to do to help us win, " James told reporters after herding his weary and wounded Cavaliers unto the second round of the playoffs against the top-seeded Toronto Raptors in a best-of-seven series beginning on Tuesday at the Air Canada Centre in downtown Toronto.
In a game where everything was on the line - team legacy, a path to another NBA Finals trip, glory, etc - the best player in the planet needed help.
And LeBron got plenty on Sunday.
Tristan Thompson, who was a DNP (Did Not Play) in Games 2, 3 and 5, and played just 22 minutes in the series entering Game Seven, came out of seclusion and re-introduced himself with 15 points and 10 rebounds.
George Hill battled through back pains to deliver 11 points, six rebounds and three assists in 17 minutes of second half action. His heart broken by LeBron three times when he was a Pacer, Hill is finally on the bright side of happiness.
Kevin Love ignored the pain and discomfort of a thumb injury and scored 14, including eight in a crucial fourth quarter stretch. Even if you have LeBron on your team, it never hurts to have a little Love.
J.R. Smith kept misfiring but he was good for 11.
James. Love, Thompson and Smith have been here before, in the cauldron of a Game Seven, and they knew exactly what was needed to get the job done.
Except for Victor Oladipo and Darren Collison, who had 30 and 23 points, respectively, the Pacers shrunk atop the big stage, squinting under the bright lights. They did give a good fight, but after a blistering 18-2 run that gave them a 61-58 third-quarter lead, the Pacers had emptied the tank.
Thaddeus Young chipped in 14 and 10 boards. Damonstas Sabonis cleared for 10 points and Lance Stephenson parlayed eight points off the bench. But the Pacers got nothing from Game 3 hero Bojan Bogdanovic, who went 1-for-9 from the field and finished with more fouls (5) than points (3).
Bogdanovic spent most of the afternoon chasing James, a futile attempt at stopping greatness. He was clearly tired on the defensive end that it obviously affected his shooting stroke, which begs the question why Stephenson played only 12 minutes while Bogdanovic logged in 37.
Coulda. Woulda. Shoulda.
Really, the only thing that slowed down LeBron James in Game Seven was a mild case of cramps which required his brief exit late in the third quarter and an extended rest early in the fourth quarter.
Depsite playing over 40 minutes a game throughout the seven-game set, LeBron somehow managed to reach the 40-point plateau for the 22nd time in the playoffs. I mean, many great players will die for one 40-point explosion in the postseason. LeBron has 22!!! God save the Raptors.
But can the King really survive a well-tooled Toronto team, given the inconsistent play and production from the rest of the Cavaliers?
"I'm burnt," James said, refusing to talk about the next series.
Yeah, let the man the rest. He just carried an entire city on his shoulders.