CLEVELAND: LeBron James had played 35 minutes without a break when he went to the locker room to attend to what he called “a minor injury” with a minute left in the third quarter.

Even in the first half against the Indiana Pacers on Sunday, the Cavaliers star had expended so much energy that his chest was heaving. During timeouts he sat on the bench, unmoving, eyes closed, waiting until the last possible second to return to the court.

Replay reviews were a godsend. Sometimes he hung back at the other end during Pacers free throws. He’d been the last Cav to return to the court after halftime.

When he finally left 60 seconds before the third quarter ended, owner Dan Gilbert and General Manager Koby Altman soon followed him and trainer Steve Spiro down the Quicken Loans Arena tunnel.

Many presumed James had gone in for intravenous fluids. Guard Matthew Dellavedova experienced full body cramping during Game 3 of the 2015 NBA Finals, so it was a natural assumption.

When asked later if an IV had been suggested, James said yes, but said he turned it down.

Perhaps he saw it as a sign of weakness. Maybe he felt regular fluids would suffice. That’s not to say he didn’t need a bag or two after the game.

But getting through 43 minutes without it elevated the appreciation of James’ performance during the Cavaliers’ 105-101 victory over the Pacers in Game 7 and during a series in which the Cavs were outscored by 40 points.

As they moved on to face the Toronto Raptors in the Eastern Conference semifinals, which open Tuesday at Air Canada Centre, James pushed his body to its limit. In a season that could be entitled “The Seven Wonders of LeBron James,” the 33-year-old, 15-year veteran came up with an eighth.

‘Burnt right now’

Facing embarrassing first-round playoff elimination and what could have been his final game as a Cavalier, James rose up again.

“I’m burnt right now,” James said when a question about the Raptors was posed. “I’m not thinking about Toronto until tomorrow. I’m ready to go home. Can we? I’m tired.”

In the series-clincher, James scored 45 points with nine rebounds, seven assists and four steals. In the seven games, he averaged 41 minutes, that lowered because he sat the entire fourth quarter of Friday’s 34-point loss at Indiana, and averaged 34.4 points, 10.1 rebounds, 7.7 assists and 1.4 steals.

James played like a man possessed as he improved to 13-0 in first-round series in his career.

The Cavs wouldn’t be moving on if he hadn’t. For the first time in his career, James won a playoff series without a teammate scoring 20 points in any game.

He responded by scoring 40 or more in three games. He was also the last NBA player to do that, in the 2015 Finals, when the Cavs lost Kevin Love to a dislocated left shoulder in the first round and Kyrie Irving with a fractured left kneecap in Game 1 of the Finals.

Yes, James has carried the Cavs like this before. But now he’s older. Some of the scars from his battles may be invisible, but they require a virtually unprecedented body maintenance routine.

James’ 45 points Sunday was the second most in a Game 7 victory in league history, surpassed only by Hall of Famer Sam Jones of the Celtics, who scored 47 in 1963. James was the first to put up 26 points in the first half of a Game 7 since Paul Pierce scored 26 against the James-led Cavs in the 2008 conference semifinals.

Asked where this James’ performance ranked, Kevin Love said, “It’s up there. He had a few games this series where he was incredible, you almost come to expect it. He was amazing tonight, and we needed everything.”

Even Pacers star Victor Oladipo was impressed.

“Amazing,” Oladipo said of James. “He did what he always does. It’s not really shocking. He’s the best in the world, that’s what the best does.”

Inspiring energy

Kyle Korver was awed by what he saw from James against the Pacers.

“To play with the energy that it took to play seven games that hard, it’s unbelievable,” Korver said. “He’s not just playing minutes, he’s got the ball in his hand almost every possession. He’s playing great defense, he’s getting rebounds, he’s controlling the whole game.

“Allen Iverson used to say, ‘You know how much energy it takes to shoot 30 shots a game?’ It’s true. A lot of us don’t understand, to create that many shots takes a lot of energy. Bron’s doing that, plus he’s doing so many other things. I don’t think he’s appreciated enough for just how much energy he puts into every single game to do what he does.”

Korver didn’t even know James had gone to the locker room Sunday. Guard George Hill wasn’t worried that James wouldn’t return saying, “He’s a warrior, he’s gonna be there no matter what.”

But the postseason is more intense, the fouls harder, the swipes across James’ head can draw blood, as Thaddeus Young did Friday when he cut James above his left eye.

To do what James has done thus far in the 2018 playoffs isn’t just a reflection of the way he takes care of his body, it’s an indication of his mental strength.

“There’s times you can blame fatigue or say you are tired, but he finds ways to push through, and that’s being tough mentally,” Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said. “Not letting yourself get fatigued and knowing that you have to make tough plays down the stretch, which he did.”

Tristan Thompson has played with James for four seasons and called what he’s doing “unreal.”

“I thought I had a good motor but … he’s got a Lamborghini motor,” Thompson said. “Ever since he’s come back, he’s always told us, ‘Your body is what will keep you going. You’ve got to take care of it and do the right thing.’ For him to be able to do all that, it’s unreal. It’s crazy. Especially in year 15.

“Geez, if I could find the remedy for that, I’d definitely take it.”

James will test the remedy in the next round. Twice in the Pacers series the Cavs had two days off in between games. Against the Raptors, the Cavs play every other day.

James may have been “burnt” after the draining seven games. But considering the level at which he’s playing, all will expect him to continue to sweep away the ashes.

Marla Ridenour can be reached at mridenour@thebeaconjournal.com. Read the Cavs blog at www.ohio.com/cavs. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ.