TORONTO — A jubilant, emotional LeBron James celebrated his sixth consecutive trip to the NBA Finals as if it was one of his first couple of trips. He even got choked up when asked about it Friday night.
Moments after the Cleveland Cavaliers won the Eastern Conference finals with a 113-87 Game 6 victory over the Toronto Raptors, James’ voice began to crack when asked what he is most proud of with his six straight trips to the championship series.
“I don’t know,” James said on the court as he marveled at the remaining Toronto fans chanting their appreciation for the Raptors. “I have heard all the questions, and that right there is a stumper. Um, I am just very humbled and gracious that the man above has given me the opportunity to play the game that I love. And I get to go out here and do it every single night in front of my fans.
“It is very emotional to be a part of something like this. This is my sixth straight. It means everything.”
James immediately set the tone for the Cavs, saving his most aggressive game in the East finals for last with 33 points, 11 rebounds, 6 assists and 3 blocks.
At the end, he sprinted toward a curtained-off area for the Cavaliers to celebrate their second consecutive trip to the Finals with family and friends. The team then gathered in the locker room, where players doused one another with water.
James and his team have won the Eastern Conference every season since 2011, when he won the first of four straight conference titles with the Miami Heat, followed by the past two with Cleveland.
“There’s definitely a different feeling,” James said. “I didn’t appreciate last year myself personally on getting to the Finals. Just so much was going on in my mind, knowing that Kev was out for the rest of the season and knowing that Ky was dealing with injuries all the way from the first round. I just didn’t appreciate it.
“It’s definitely a different feeling,” James continued, discussing this journey to the Finals as he sat next to Love and Irving on the dais. “Having these guys right here at full strength, having our team at full strength, and the way I feel personally, I appreciate this moment, to be able to be a part of it and to be there once again.”
Love dislocated his shoulder in the first round against Boston last year and was lost for the postseason. Then Irving required season-ending surgery on his left kneecap after injuring it in Game 1 of the Finals. The Cavs went on to lose 4-2 to the Golden State Warriors.
This postseason, though, the Cavaliers enter the Finals with a healthy Love and Irving and have lost only twice in their first 14 playoff games.
“I think it will be totally different compared to last year,” J.R. Smith said. “There is nothing like having a full roster. Kyrie went out Game 1, Kevin was done first round. There is a reason why they get paid the big bucks, so we’ll see.”
While James and his team were extremely giddy about clinching the East again, the Cavaliers know what remains ahead.
“We’re locked in on four more. We are not poppin’ champagne, we are not kissing babies,” said veteran forward Richard Jefferson, who is making his first appearance in the Finals since he went two straight times with the New Jersey Nets in 2002 and 2003. “We are just enjoying this process.”
And perhaps no one is enjoying this more than James, whose Cavaliers are here again despite a coaching change from David Blatt to Tyronn Lue during the season.
“You can see it on LeBron’s face,” Cleveland owner Dan Gilbert told Fox Sports Ohio. “You can tell when he’s happy. He just sort of glows.”
ESPN’s Brian Windhorst contributed to this report.