INDEPENDENCE (92.3 The Fan) – There was a time that the Boston Celtics were just too much for LeBron James.
That was then, this is now.
James and the defending NBA champions enter the Eastern Conference Finals matchup as heavy favorites when they open the series Wednesday night in Boston, the sixth time that James has faced the Celtics in the playoffs, where he’s won the last 3 series against them.
As James fielded questions from reporters Tuesday, he wore a t-shirt bearing the fighting leprechaun mascot of his high school Alma Mater, Akron St. Vincent St. Mary. It probably was no accident James chose that shirt to wear a day before facing the Celtics again considering that everything he does and says is calculated.
But that was as far as he was willing to go following practice as he tempered his comments as to not create any type of headline, story or distraction despite the best efforts of reporters to elicit one from him.
“You guys are trying to create story lines,” James said. “The only story line is Celtics vs. Cavs and who can win this series.”
It could be argued that his inability to get past the Celtics prompted James to bolt the Cavs for Miami where he teamed up with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh to win 4 straight conference titles and 2 NBA crowns. Boston eliminated James and the Cavs twice in 3 years – 2008 and 2010 – in the conference semifinals, which remains the last time James actually lost an Eastern Conference playoff series.
“At the end of the day, the Celtics are our next opponent and they’re a worthy opponent,” James said. “We have to game plan every game, we have to game plan for what they bring to the table. And when we have to mentally focus on our challenges that we have every game.”
After joining the Heat, James overcame the mystique of the Celtics’ 17 championship banners and 21 retired jerseys and he has owned the Eastern Conference ever since.
James plowed through the Celtics in the 2011 semifinals 4-1 and won a dramatic Game 7 in 2012 en route to capturing his first NBA title. It could be argued that wins in Games 6 and 7 of that series against Boston were the turning point for James’ career.
“Now that you’ve brought it to my attention, yeah, I would say that,” Cavs head coach Tyronn Lue, who was an assistant under Doc Rivers for Boston in 2012, said.
As impressive of a 4-year run in Miami as that was for James, his teams only completed 2 series sweeps.
In 3 years back with the Cavs, James has already helped Cleveland sweep an NBA-record 6 playoff series as they find themselves 4 wins away from an Eastern Conference three-peat, and a seventh consecutive trip to the NBA Finals for James.
Dating back to the 2015 playoffs, James and the Cavs are a staggering 32-4 against the Eastern Conference.
James has been nothing short of sensational once again this postseason. He is averaging 34.4 points while shooting .557 from the field to go with 9.0 rebounds, 7.1 assists, 2.13 steals and 1.5 blocks per game to become the first ever in NBA playoff history to tally 275 points, 70 rebounds, and 50 assists in his first 8 playoff games of any postseason.
“LeBron’s been playing at such a high level, why would you go away from that?” Lue said. “Let’s ride it while he’s been playing great. Kevin [Love] understands that, Kyrie understands that, all the guys understand it. We’ll do a better job getting Kevin involved, getting him more touches. But LeBron’s playing at such a high level, it was hard to kind of go away from that. We’re just all about winning and in order to win you’ve got to sacrifice.”
The last time James faced the Celtics was 2015, that saw Cleveland sweep the series, which ended in controversy when Boston’s Kelly Olynyk dislocated Kevin Love’s shoulder in Game 4, a subject James didn’t even want to touch on when asked about it Tuesday.
“I’m not about story lines. I’m just going to play basketball,” James said.