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LeBron James and the depleted Cleveland Cavaliers won’t get any sympathy from the Celtics when they return to Boston for Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals.
Already laboring to reach his eighth straight NBA Finals with a supporting crew made mostly of cast-offs and throw-ins
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, James lost the only other All-Star on the roster on Saturday when Kevin Love was declared out for the series finale with a concussion.
Now, in what could be his final game in a Cleveland uniform – again – James will have to do it largely on his own.
In Boston, where the Celtics are perfect so far this postseason.
And in a series where the road team hasn’t really even come close.
”There’s something different about LeBron, period,” Cleveland forward Larry Nance Jr. said after James scored 46 with 11 rebounds and nine assists on Friday night to send the series to a decisive seventh game. ”I think (coach Tyronn Lue) said it best: `We’re going into a Game 7 with the baddest dude on the planet on our team.’ I like our chances.”
James is having what could be the best postseason of his career, averaging 33.9 points and just under nine assists and rebounds, with seven 40-point games, two buzzer beaters, and a sweep of top-seeded Toronto. But he’s played in every game this season – Sunday will be his 100th – and it showed in the Game 5 loss to the Celtics.
He admitted to fatigue afterward, and then played all but two minutes in Game 6 despite a sore knee from a collision with Nance.
Still, the four-time MVP carried his team even after Love banged heads with Boston’s Jayson Tatum in the first half and left the game.
”I can’t say enough good things about him,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. ”Every time we watch. Every time you’re standing out there. Every time you watch him on film. Best player in the game.”
James will probably have to do it again in Game 7 to reach the NBA Finals for the eighth straight year, something accomplished only by Bill Russell and some of his Celtics teammates in the 1960s.
Lue said he wasn’t concerned about James’ leg. Or about the team’s history in the TD Garden
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, where the Cavaliers lost the first three games by an average of 17 points.
”We throw it all out,” Lue said on Saturday. ”It’s one game left to go to the NBA Finals.”
The Celtics have had their own injury problems, starting in the first quarter of the season opener – at Cleveland – when top free agent Gordon Hayward went out for the year with a broken leg. Five-time All-Star Kyrie Irving, acquired from the Cavaliers in an offseason roster overhaul, needed knee surgery and was lost in March.
But they caught a break when Tatum was cleared to play on Saturday. Stevens said the team doctors checked on him ”and he’s great.”
”So nothing there as far as to be concerned about,” Stevens said.
Well, there’s one thing to be concerned about.
”We know LeBron is different than a lot of other guys, but we’ve got to get the job done,” Celtics guard Terry Rozier said. ”That’s no excuse, so we’re looking forward to it.”
For James, it’s an opportunity to extend the season for his hometown team and put off another summer of questions about his future. Eight years ago, he came to Boston for the conference semifinals and had a triple-double – 27 points, 19 rebounds and 10 assists – but shot 8 for 21 with nine turnovers and the Celtics eliminated the Cavs from the playoffs.
As he left the court
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, James stripped off his Cleveland jersey; then came ”The Decision” and the move to Miami.
James is again able to become a free agent this season, with the Lakers, 76ers and Rockets among the most-mentioned destinations. Having led Cleveland to the city’s first major sports title in half a century in 2016, there is less pulling at him to stay home this time.
But another title would ease the pain even more. And with the injury bug hitting the Western Conference finalists – Chris Paul was the latest ruled out for a game – the East champion might not be as big an underdog as expected.
James will be ready.
”You’ve got to be poised. You’ve got to be able to handle a punch or two,” he said. ”We know it’s challenging. They’re 10-0 on their home floor, and they’ve been very successful against us, obviously, at home. But if you love challenges, then this is a great opportunity.”
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MIAMI — San Francisco Giants rookie Dereck Rodriguez is thrilled to be in the major leagues while Miami Marlins veteran Dan Straily is just relieved he’s not on the disabled list.
Rodriguez and Straily will go at each other in Thursday’s finale to this four-game series. The Marlins (26-42) have won the first three games against the Giants (33-35) including Wednesday’s 5-4 victory, which ended with Brian Anderson’s walk-off sacrifice fly in the ninth inning.
As for Rodriguez (1-1, 5.25 ERA in three starts), he is the son of Hall of Fame catcher Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez.
Meanwhile, Straily (2-2
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, 4.08 ERA) survived last week when he got hit by a 110-mph line drive off the bat of San Diego Padres first baseman Eric Hosmer. It was a terrifying play, but Straily escaped with bruised ribs and did not miss a start.
“It definitely took the wind out of me,” Straily said of the Hosmer line drive. “I felt myself kind of spinning around.
“When you get hit, you don’t really remember it — you kind of have a momentary blackout. Your body takes over, whether it’s adrenaline or whatever the actual reaction is … You don’t feel anything for a few minutes.”
Straily said it wasn’t until he left the game after 3 2/3 innings that he felt “a little bit of soreness” while back in the locker room.
“It’s never anything you want to deal with, but you keep going forward,” he said. “We all know that we (pitchers) stand the closest to home plate, but you can’t let that stuff bother you or you won’t be able to pitch. You can’t let that be a fear.”
Straily said x-rays were negative — no broken bones.
“If there were any doubt that I’m not 100 percent, I wouldn’t be on the mound,” Straily said. “It’s not about trying to be a tough guy or having a lot of pride.”
The Marlins are 5-3 when Straily starts, but he has allowed 10 runs (nine earned) in his past 13 2/3 innings. He has just two quality starts this season — both on the road — May 18 and 23.
In fact, Straily has been better on the road (1-2, 2.67 ERA in five starts) as opposed to his home numbers (1-0
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, 7.11 ERA, three starts).
A promising note for Straily is the fact that he is 4-0 with a 2.43 ERA in five career starts against San Francisco.
His counterpart Thursday, whose full name is Ivan Dereck Rodriguez, is 26 years old and has endured a long journey to get to the majors.
Rodriguez was an outfielder at two South Florida high schools, Hollywood Chaminade and Monsignor Pace. He was drafted by the Minnesota Twins in the sixth round in 2011 and switched positions to pitcher late in the 2013 season.
It wasn’t until last year that he finally got to Double A, going 5-4 with a 3.94 ERA in 15 appearances (13 starts).
This year, he went 4-1 with a 3.40 ERA in nine starts at Triple-A Sacramento, earning his promotion to the majors May 29.
Rodriguez lasted only 3 1/3 innings in his debut, allowing five hits, one walk and four runs (one earned) at the Colorado Rockies.
His next start, at home against the Philadelphia Phillies, marked his only major league win as Rodriguez picked up a quality start, allowing one run
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, five hits and two walks in six innings.
However, Rodriguez allowed five runs in 2 2/3 innings last week against the Washington Nationals, and that has produced an early trend in which he is 0-1 with a 9.00 ERA in two road starts.
He clearly has a long way to match the exploits of his father, who was a 14-time All-Star and a 13-time Gold Glove winner. Pudge also won a World Series championship in 2003, his only year with the Marlins.
“I was there almost every game,” Dereck Rodriguez told the Sun-Sentinel when asked about that 2003 season. “I remember everything. It was a year to remember, honestly. I spent a lot of time on the field with the guys. It was a lot of fun.”
Rodriguez can jack up his fastball to 95 mph, which is not surprising given what a strong arm was possessed by Pudge.
Giants manager Bruce Bochy praised Dereck Rodriguez for having good command of four pitches.
“Being a converted (pitcher), it’s impressive how fast he has come on,” Bochy said. “He earned the promotion with the way he was throwing in Sacramento.”
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