(Reuters) - LeBron James is planning to “appreciate” a sixth consecutive NBA Finals appearance after the Cleveland Cavaliers overcame the Toronto Raptors on Friday to seal victory in their Eastern Conference final series.
In his second season back with his hometown team, James scored 33 points as the Cavaliers thumped the Raptors 113-87 in Toronto to seal a 4-2 victory in the best-of-seven series.
He played in four straight finals with the Miami Heat, winning two championships, in 2012 and 2013, before returning to Cleveland.
“This is my sixth straight and it means everything,” the four-times MVP said in a courtside interview.
“I don’t think last year I appreciated it enough getting back to the finals. This year I‘m going to appreciate this.”
James was referring to the 2015 Finals, when he almost single-handedly carried the injury-riddled Cavaliers to an unlikely triumph over Golden State.
However, without forward Kevin Love and guard Kyrie Irving, the other two members of Cleveland’s “Big Three”, the Cavaliers were severely undermanned, falling in six games.
Though James, 31, has two championships, the city of Cleveland is still yearning for a first NBA title.
He believes that with Love and Irving healthy, the chances of ending the drought are far greater this year.
“We’ve covered a lot of ground and I still believe we can get better. We’ve had our ups and downs through three rounds.”
James was up for Game Six on Friday, hitting 13-of-22 from the floor and grabbing 11 rebounds.
More importantly, he pounced early, scoring 13 points inside the first seven minutes as the Cavs jumped out to a lead they would not surrender.
“I had to bring my game, be in attack mode from the beginning,” he said.
“I had to trust my shot. I knew once my shot started going, I could get my team mates involved and they were able to carry me down the stretch.”
Coach Tyronn Lue acknowledged the importance of getting James to come out firing on all cylinders.
“We needed LeBron to set the tone for us early, and I thought he did that,” Lue said.
”We knew LeBron at some point was going to run out of gas... LeBron expended so much energy in that first quarter to get us off to that great start and then Kyrie and Kevin brought us home.
“To go to six straight finals is unbelievable.”
Vanquished coach Dwane Casey praised James effusively.
“There’s only one LeBron James,” Casey said. “You put him on any team and he’s going to be a difference-maker. Everybody on that organization, their level has gone up because he’s on their team.”
Reporting by Andrew Both in Cary, North Carolina; Editing by John O'Brien