Eastern Conference finals: Game 7

Cleveland Cavaliers 87, Boston Celtics 79

Series: Cleveland wins 4-3

Next game: NBA Finals, Thursday, May 31

• The story: LeBron James’s big shoulders carry Cleveland to another Finals.

• Analysis: LeBron James once again has done what no other player could do.

• In-game highlights: The Cavaliers are headed to their fourth straight NBA Finals.

• Postgame reading: Dragging these Cavs to the Finals is James’s greatest feat, and catchup on what’s happening out West.


LeBron James’s big shoulders carry Cleveland to another Finals

by Candace Buckner

BOSTON — LeBron James roared at the crowd of green. A horse- collar tackle disguised as a foul couldn’t stop him. When his layup was ruled good, the memorable dagger in the Cleveland Cavaliers’ 87-79 coronation in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals, James released a scream and the baseline of silenced fans could only marvel. James had showed up once again.

“It’s what’s been asked of me from this ballclub,” James said. “I’m the leader of this team and I’m going to give what I got.”

The NBA Finals start Thursday night at either Golden State or Houston and, improbably, these Cavaliers will be there.

Jeff Green, Tristan Thompson and JR Smith. George Hill, Kyle Korver and Larry Nance Jr. They now are all Eastern Conference champions, because James dominated once again.
James finished with 35 points, 15 rebounds and nine assists while playing all 48 minutes. He will play in the Finals for the eighth consecutive year.

“He’s unbelievable,” Celtics Coach Brad Stevens said. “Does it at this level, with the pressure, with the scrutiny. Doesn’t matter. Our goal going into the series was to make him exert as much energy as humanly possible . . . but he still scored 35. It’s a joke.”

Cleveland needed every ounce of his kingly reign, because the young Celtics did not go quietly.

Boston has been labeled as too inexperienced and too injured to make a lasting dent in these playoffs, let alone good enough to earn the Eastern Conference crown. And yet the fans who raged down Legends Way and into TD Garden, their screams shaking the walls inside the bowels of the arena, believed. Team co-owner Steve Pagliuca, spotted before the game wearing a shamrock necktie, believed. And most of all, the Celtics themselves believed.

Rookie Jayson Tatum flaunted his swagger in the fourth quarter while dunking over James and then flexing at him. And yet when the Celtics needed this confidence in clutch moments, their tank ran empty.

Boston made only 7 of 39 three-point attempts, including 10 missed threes in the fourth. Near the end, the five players on the court shared the same stunned expression, no longer reflecting the loose and light team that had earlier reduced Cleveland into a one-man show.

In the midst of Boston’s plus-eight opening quarter, James sprinted alone down the court in an attempt to intercept an outlet pass heading for Tatum. James narrowly missed the ball, however, and landed two rows deep into the courtside seats. His solo act of defensive desperation was punished by Tatum’s open 20-footer. And his independent streak on the other end, at least early on, was just as fruitless.

James tried doing it all by himself. Usually a playmaker, James shunned sharing while dribbling for long stretches in possessions to size up one-on-one matchups. Later, he bulldozed into the paint, taking on a trio of Celtics, scoring and creating a three-point play. His efforts seemed rooted in necessity, and not narcissism.

The Cavaliers, one of the most criticized collection of teammates over James’s 15-year career, lacked a true second option because all-star Kevin Love missed the game with concussion-like symptoms. It was only a few months ago when this same roster earned premature praise after the Cavaliers conducted several trades to bring in four new players. On Feb. 11, the revamped Cavaliers made their debut inside TD Garden. They ran few plays and played free and soundly defeated the Celtics by 22 points.

On that night, James hammed it up on the bench while watching his new teammates soar. For Game 7, however, the magnitude of the moment demanded that James never leave the court, and he accounted for his team’s first seven points. No other Cleveland player hit a shot from the field until 4:46 remained in the first quarter.

While James labored with the Cavaliers, Boston settled in, getting good looks and shooting 47.8 percent. By the second quarter, however, the shots stopped falling with frequency while James had finally found a sidekick.

Green, who stepped into the starting lineup in place of Love, spent his mid-20s in Boston as somewhat of a disappointment, and four seasons and three teams later he landed in Cleveland, taking on a role that no one would have expected: Game 7 starter.

“I’m just so happy for Jeff,” Cavaliers Coach Tyronn Lue said after Green finished with 19 points and eight rebounds. “An all-around great guy, and I’m happy for the performance he had tonight.”

With under five minutes to play in the third quarter, Green’s triple erased a double-digit deficit and pulled the Cavaliers ahead 53-51. Then in the closing seconds of the quarter, when Morris went under a screen, James elevated for another three-pointer to give Cleveland a 59-56 advantage heading into the final period.

“We just had one of those nights,” Stevens said after the Celtics tightened and finished shooting 34.1 percent. “I felt the biggest moment in the game was when we couldn’t extend the lead in the second quarter.”

Boston temporarily yanked the lead back when Tatum nailed a three from beyond the right arc with 6:04 remaining. But James would flex his muscles last and spectacularly lead his team to another conference championship.


LeBron James once again has done what no other player could do

by Tim Bontemps

There has been a lot of debate over the past few months about whether it mattered if LeBron James made it back to another NBA Finals this year. His team isn’t expected to have much of a chance of winning; if he can’t win, then what is the point?

Is anyone arguing that now? After going for 35 points, 15 rebounds and nine assists while playing every second of Cleveland’s 87-79 Game 7 victory over Boston?

Of course not.


(AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

Leading these Cavaliers past the Celtics is unquestionably another notch in his lifetime achievement ledger. After dealing with Kyrie Irving being traded away, Isaiah Thomas and Jae Crowder not mixing in, different members of the supporting cast rising and falling on a daily basis, these Cavaliers were finally supposed to fall in the playoffs. There was not to be an eighth straight NBA Finals appearances for James.

Cleveland took seven games to beat the Indiana Pacers, and the obituaries were already written for this team — and for James’s time in Northeast Ohio.

But James just kept moving forward, taking out the Toronto Raptors in four games — including a buzzer-beater to win Game 3. Now he’s toppled the Celtics in seven games, dragging Cleveland back to the Finals even with Kevin Love, the team’s second-best player, sidelined with a concussion for Game 7.

“At the end of the day, the man above has given me a God-given ability and I try to take advantage of it,” James said.

James has done that, and then some, over the past six weeks. Now he has the Cavaliers in the NBA Finals once again.

Perhaps James won’t have enough in the tank to beat the Golden State Warriors or Houston Rockets. But James wasn’t even supposed to get the Cavaliers this far.

That’s why, despite it being an eighth straight trip to the Finals, this is far from an ordinary moment. Instead, a performance for the ages has burnished James’s legacy as much as a title would for most people.

Of course it mattered to drag this team back to the NBA Finals. Once again, LeBron James has done something no other player could do.


In-game updates by Tim Bontemps:

LeBron James is headed to his eighth straight NBA Finals.

The Cleveland Cavaliers are headed to their fourth straight Finals.

Somehow. Someway.

Cleveland beat the Celtics, 87-79, in Game 7 to claim yet another Eastern Conference finals banner, becoming the first team in this postseason win in Boston in the process.


What a game.

It hasn’t been pretty, but this has had every ounce of drama that one could ask for from a Game 7.

Still, Cleveland leads 76-73 with 3:47 remaining, with the ball, and has to feel good about its chances.

That said: Celtics rookie Jayson Tatum has been superb. Now with 24 points, including this ridiculous dunk over LeBron James a moment ago, Tatum is the only player who doesn’t look afraid of the moment.

But can he actually take down LeBron James? That still feels like a bridge too far.


After three quarters, the Cavaliers hold a 59-56 lead over the Celtics, in a game that has played out exactly as Cleveland hoped.

A low-scoring, close game is going to favor the Cavs, who have the greatest player in the game against a team with young players who haven’t been in this spot before.

James has 23 points, 12 rebounds and five assists through three and has played every second. It is hard to see that changing now.

Will it be enough? At this point, it’s hard to believe he won’t.


Terry Rozier tried LeBron James.

It didn’t end well.

What makes this better is that James eyed it up almost from the second Rozier stole the pass he threw and waited to make his move.

Then, once he did, he never moved. Incredible.


The Cavaliers continue to get open looks from three. They also continue to miss them.

But despite being now 3 for 21 from three, Cleveland has tied the game after an and-one by Jeff Green, who has been massive (12 points, five rebounds) in place of Kevin Love.

Still, Cleveland needs to start making shots soon.


Boston leads 43-39 at the half, but it feels like the first half was a win for Cleveland.

The Cavaliers have gotten two points from their bench and five from starting guards George Hill and J.R. Smith. If Cleveland hadn’t gotten 15 combined points from Jeff Green and Tristan Thompson, this game could be a lot different.

Of course, the same could be said if the Cavaliers had made more than 2 of their 17 three-point attempts.

Boston has 14 points from Al Horford and 11 from Jayson Tatum, but not much from anyone else. The Celtics need that to change and to keep getting Horford isolated on Cavaliers besides Thompson, as they did repeatedly in the first half.


There hasn’t been a lot of reason for optimism from the Cavaliers side in the first half of Game 7.

But there doesn’t need to be many others reason for optimism when one reason is LeBron James.

With a couple minutes to go in the first half, James already has 17 points and 10 rebounds. If he can keep this up, and the Cavaliers can start hitting threes (they are 2 for 15), Cleveland will have a real shot in this game.

As it is, Boston leads 39-37 late in the first half.


It’s danger-zone time for Cleveland.

With Boston up by 12 at home midway through the second quarter, the Cavaliers have to be careful not to let this game get away from them already. Cleveland has six turnovers — including four by LeBron James — while Boston has one.

James, understandably, looks winded early after shouldering such a heavy load in this series. His teammates haven’t been able to provide much help.

As a result, the Celtics are pulling away, and are threatening to break this game wide open if the Cavaliers aren’t careful.


Cleveland has survived an early rough start, and with Kevin Love out has deployed an interesting wrinkle early in the game: LeBron James at center.

With James playing at the five, yet still bringing the ball up the floor, it allows Cleveland to have the floor spread with shooters around him. As a result, the Cavs have taken back the lead.


The Cavaliers need a big game from George Hill to win on the road.

So it is a bad sign for Cleveland that Hill began the game clanking an open three, then tried to drive from the corner and lost the ball out of bounds.

Without Kevin Love, Hill is the one player who can be a consistent presence for Cleveland — if he’s right. If he’s not, an already difficult task for LeBron James becomes virtually impossible.

To make matters worse, it’s already 11-4 Boston.


Preview:

The Cleveland Cavaliers head into TD Garden to face the Boston Celtics with LeBron James seeking to make his eighth straight NBA Finals.

It will, coincidentally, be the eighth time in James’s 15-year NBA career that he’s played in a Game 7 in a playoff series. And, like everything else he’s been part of, his numbers are absurd, with averages of 34.9 points, eight rebounds and 4.5 assists per game.

Here is a look at each of those games, in chronological order, before tonight’s action begins at 8:30 in Boston:

May 21, 2006: Eastern Conference semifinals in Detroit

Detroit Pistons 79, Cleveland Cavaliers 61

In James’s third season, he made his first trip to the playoffs. And, after advancing to the second round by beating the Washington Wizards, he faced a Pistons team that was in the midst of a streak of six consecutive runs to, at minimum, the Eastern Conference finals.

That means James didn’t get the job done this time — though he did have 27 points, eight rebounds and two assists in almost 47 minutes in a lopsided Detroit victory that saw the rest of Cleveland’s roster combine to shoot 9-for-41 and score 34 points. James would exact revenge on Detroit the following year, however, when he’d lead Cleveland past the Pistons in the Eastern Conference finals to reach the NBA Finals for the first time.

May 18, 2008: Eastern Conference semifinals in Boston

Boston Celtics 97, Cleveland Cavaliers 92

Despite it being a loss, this is one of the iconic performances of James’s career. Facing off against Paul Pierce, James had a spectacular game — scoring 45 points to go with five rebounds, six assists in two steals in nearly 47 minutes. But Pierce had a heck of a game himself, scoring 41 points, and P.J. Brown hit a couple of key late jumpers to allow the Celtics to — barely — survive. They’d go on to win the title.

June 9, 2012: Eastern Conference finals in Miami

Miami Heat 101, Boston Celtics 88

After James had the game of his career in Boston in Game 6, bringing the series back to the shores of Biscayne Bay, there was no way Miami was going to lose this game. And, just to make sure, James was brilliant: playing all but 28 seconds of the game, he had 31 points and 12 rebounds.

Losing one of those final two games of that series would have led to wholesale changes in Miami; instead, the Heat went on to beat the Oklahoma City Thunder in five games to capture the first title of James’s career.

June 3, 2013: Eastern Conference finals in Miami

Miami Heat 99, Indiana Pacers 76

While the Heat stampeded through the East for the first four years of this decade, their battles with the Pacers became a pretty heated rivalry. Its peak came in 2013, when Indiana pushed Miami the distance in the East finals.

But just like Indiana’s many battles with Michael Jordan in the 1990s, these always end the same way: with the iconic player of his generation preventing them from making the NBA Finals. This time, it was James going for 32 points, eight rebounds, four assists and two steals in over 40 minutes.

June 20, 2013: NBA Finals in Miami

Miami Heat 95, San Antonio Spurs 88

This series will always be remembered for one of the most iconic shots in NBA history: Ray Allen’s corner three-pointer to tie Game 6 at the end of regulation, a game Miami would go on to win in overtime and force Game 7.

The final game of that series, however, was nearly as dramatic, with it going down to the last minutes of the fourth quarter before the Heat would eventually win. James collected his second straight NBA Finals MVP award after closing the series out with 37 points, 12 rebounds four assists and two steals in 45 minutes, while also shooting the ball extremely well (12-for-23 overall, 5-for-10 from three and a perfect 8-for-8 from the foul line).

June 19, 2016: NBA Finals in Oakland

Cleveland Cavaliers 93, Golden State Warriors 89

This game, of course, not only delivered Cleveland its first championship in more than a half century, but it also produced the iconic image of James’s career: The Block. His chasedown stop of Andre Iguodala on a fast break became the symbolic image of Cleveland’s incredible comeback from a three-games-to-one deficit against the Warriors, who had set the NBA record that season with 73 victories in the regular season.

James did far more than just block that shot in the game, though. Playing 47 minutes, he finished with 27 points, 11 rebounds, 11 assists, two steals and two other blocks.

April 29, 2018: Eastern Conference quarterfinals in Cleveland

Cleveland Cavaliers 105, Indiana Pacers 101

James hadn’t lost a first-round playoff game since 2012 entering this season. But then he found himself engaged in a seven-game slugfest with the upstart Pacers, who carried over their impressive regular season play into the playoffs, and gave James all he could handle.

But, once again, he proved to be too much for them. Playing the first 34 minutes of the game before having to go to the locker room and be treated for dehydration, James still had a remarkable performance: 45 points, eight rebounds, seven assists and four steals in 43 minutes, going 16-for-25 from the field, 2-for-3 from three and 11-for-15 from the foul line to keep this season alive — eventually leading to tonight’s showdown with the Celtics.


Postgame reading:

Dragging these flawed Cavs to the NBA Finals would be LeBron James’s most remarkable feat

Warriors dismantle Rockets in second half to force winner-take-all Game 7

National anthem issue gets to heart of how the NFL, NBA deal with their players

LeBron James and the Cavaliers miss Kyrie Irving more than the Celtics do

The Warriors’ unbalanced roster is catching up with them at the worst possible time

The graybeard Cavaliers have turned experience into their best weapon against the Celtics

Only Steph Curry can make the Warriors the most dangerous version of themselves

The NBA Finals blueprint for the Cavs, Celtics, Rockets and Warriors

Luka Doncic should go No. 1 and other thoughts from the NBA draft combine

In Cavaliers-Celtics, a tale of two coaches: Scorn for Tyronn Lue, praise for Brad Stevens

At the NBA draft combine, mystery is more valuable than getting on the court

James Harden’s biggest advantage is his brain


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