NBA Finals: Stitched-up LeBron James needs to pull Cavaliers together

Cavaliers' LeBron James, saying he was 'gassed out' in Game 4 Warriors rout, needs to mend his head and team

LeBron James wore a black pork pie hat after Game 4, covering up the stitches he received after tumbling head-first into a courtside TV camera.

You have to wonder: What else is he hiding?

He looked fatigued and worn when the Cleveland Cavaliers needed him most, going scoreless in the fourth quarter as a six-point deficit quickly turned into a Golden State Warriors rout. He took two shots — a 16-footer and a step-back jumper — and was unsuccessful on both, with the NBA Finals now tied at 2-2 and heading back to Golden State for Sunday's game after James admitted he was "gassed out."

A stumble was somewhat surprising after his near-flawless Games 2 and 3, his meek 20-point effort nowhere near the depths of Earnest Byner's fumble or John Elway's drive, but also not close to helping the overwhelmingly undermanned Cavaliers.

The best excuses for James were the simplest ones. He's human. An overplayed one. With a streaky, untested supporting cast.

The 41 minutes he played in the 103-82 loss Thursday were a mere trifle after logging 46, 50 and 46.

"I was pretty much gassed either from driving, creating opportunities for my teammates, getting to the free-throw line, getting offensive glass, just trying to make that push," James said.

Cavaliers fans seemed enervated too, filtering quietly out of Quicken Loans Arena with several minutes left while Golden State fans repeated their melodic, almost haunting, "War-riors, War-riors" chant.

The thought surely flickered through James' mind, the where-would-we-be question if everybody was healthy.

All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving was missed by the Cavaliers, along with his 19-point playoff average. Kevin Love too, with playoff averages of 14.3 points and seven rebounds.

A headline in Thursday's Cleveland Plain Dealer said it all: "A little help would be great."

Matthew Dellavedova couldn't match his 20-point outburst in Game 3 and J.R. Smith couldn't get out of a typical J.R. Smith slump. He missed all eight of his three-point attempts and then described how poor he was playing with an expletive.

James made only seven of 22 shots after getting double-teamed more than any other game in the series. The Cavaliers were four for 27 from three-point range, felled by Smith's inaccuracy and also media darling Dellavedova (two for nine).

"Offensively, we were terrible," James said. "We just couldn't get the long ball going and that definitely hurt."

But James wouldn't bite on the series-is-fading-away feeling that crept into the Cleveland arena as the Warriors rained threes and dunks after two toothless games, their small-ball lineup creating quite the jolt Thursday.

James wouldn't even say these were the toughest odds he ever faced.

"Biggest challenge of my career was being down 3-2 going into Boston," he said of the 2012 Eastern Conference finals when he was with Miami. "Game 5 at Golden State is not that big when it comes to going to Boston and you lose multiple times in that arena, and the franchise that I was with at the time had never won a playoff game in Boston. Now that's pretty challenging."

James guided the Heat to a seven-game victory in that series and ultimately a championship.

Still, taking Cleveland all the way would mean so much to James, given the circumstances of his hometown return and emotional state of Cleveland fans who haven't seen anything like this in the Cavaliers' 45 years. Or the Browns' 49 years in the Super Bowl era. Or the Indians' 67 years since winning the World Series.

There is some brightness, believe it or not: The Cavaliers get an extra day of rest after playing three games in five days. James aside, they're playing a tight seven-man rotation and have other bumps and bruises to soothe.

Fighting knee and back soreness much of this season, James wouldn't reveal how many stitches he needed in his head, coyly saying there were "enough to close it up."

It's easy to diagnose this series, though. If James can't quickly return to counteracting the revived Warriors, the Cavaliers will be the ones closed out.

Twitter: @Mike_Bresnahan

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