By Tom Withers
AP Sports Writer
CLEVELAND — LeBron James has watched “The Godfather” trilogy over and over during these playoffs. The Oscar-winning films about crime, family, honor — and revenge — soothe and motivate him. He can’t get enough.
But while he’s not tired of the classic films, there’s a final scene in the NBA Finals he has witnessed too many times, and if he can avoid it again Thursday night, there will be an offer he and the Cleveland Cavaliers can’t refuse.
“Two of the best words ever,” James said, “Game 7.”
On the strength of a historic performance by James and Kyrie Irving in Game 5, the Cavs saved their season and are home with a second chance to even this unpredictable series against the defending champion Golden State Warriors, who will be back at full strength for Game 6 with forward Draymond Green returning from his one-game suspension for bad behavior.
James has been in this spot before.
So have the Warriors.
It was on June 16 last year when they closed out a short-handed Cavaliers squad in six games to win their first title since 1975. The Warriors, their families and friends partied into the early morning hours in Quicken Loans Arena, spraying champagne around their small locker room and adding another close-but-no-title entry to Cleveland’s 52-year-old list of sports misery.
The Cavs, who are trying to become the first team in history to overcome a 3-1 deficit in the finals, can’t bear the thought of Stephen Curry and Co. doing it to them a second time.
“No matter where it gets done, stopping them is the point,” J.R. Smith said. “If they win it here, it’s going to hurt. If they get it there, it’s going to hurt.”
To avoid any pain whatsoever, and pack this series up for a third trip to Northern California, the Cavs can’t count on James and Irving to duplicate their effort in Game 5, when they scored 41 points apiece and had a hand in 97 as Cleveland won 112-97. It would help if they got something from Kevin Love, who scored just 2 points in the close-out game and added only three rebounds in 33 minutes.
Love’s first finals — he missed last year’s with a shoulder injury — have gone poorly. He missed Game 3 with a concussion, and his ineffectiveness in this series is driving discussion about the Cavs moving him this summer.
Following Wednesday’s practice, Love spent several minutes sitting on the scorer’s table and chatting with Cavs coach Tyronn Lue, who must weigh whether to stick with the struggling forward or start Richard Jefferson, who gave Cleveland a huge spark in its Game 3 win.
Whatever Lue decides, James knows how Love can help.
“Just need him to be aggressive,” he said. “From the defensive side of the floor and the offensive side of the floor, go out and make an impact on the game, no matter if he’s not scoring, no matter if at times he feels like he’s not getting touches. We all just need to continue to be aggressive. He needs to be aggressive to help us try to send this game back to Golden State.
“I think he’s looking forward to the challenge. I think he’s looking forward to the moment. We definitely need him. He’s too big of a piece to our puzzle.”
Although the Cavs face an unnerving task trying to unseat the Warriors by beating them three times in a row, James is no stranger to the challenge.
In the 2013 finals, he twice helped Miami stave off elimination against San Antonio before the Heat beat the Spurs in seven games. James, who is 2-4 in the finals, has saved his best performances for close-out games, averaging 32.4 points, 11 rebounds and 6.6 assists in 15 of them. His teams are 8-7.
While others wilt in do-or-die games, James thrives.
“I’ve just been fortunate enough to make some shots, for one,” he said, explaining his calm under pressure. “Grab some rebounds, find some teammates. Guys put the ball in my face and get some blocks, and guys throw some errant passes and I’m able to get some steals. It’s that simple. It’s not easy, but it’s that simple. I know what happens in elimination games. I understand the magnitude of it, but it doesn’t bother me too much.
“I know how true I am to the game. So I’m able to try to just bottle that and live with the results. It’s not always been great, but I guess the last few elimination games it’s been pretty good, and hopefully I can continue that tomorrow.”
If he does, there’s a long flight to Oakland awaiting him.
Plenty of time to watch his favorite movie again, too.