Wrap-Up -- Despite one of the weirdest and most difficult regular seasons in franchise history – plus a postseason that featured two arduous seven-game series – one thing remains clear: you can never count out the Cavaliers as long as the King rules the court.
LeBron James had willed the Wine & Gold to this point, and on Sunday night, the four-time MVP showed why his squads have been beasts of the East for the last eight straight seasons – sinking Boston in Game 7 to advance to the NBA Finals for the fourth straight year, pulling past the scrappy young Celtics, 87-79, at TD Garden.
The Cavaliers had been pronounced dead several times this season – including twice in the Playoffs after falling behind in the First Round and Eastern Conference Finals. But each time they bounced back off the mat to advance.
The Celtics came into Game 7 of the ECF with a perfect 10-0 record at home – including three convincing wins over Cleveland. And the elimination contest looked like it was heading down that path again on Sunday, with Cleveland falling behind by double-digits midway through the second period.
But the Wine & Gold righted the ship before intermission and continued to plug away through the third quarter. After a back-and-forth start to the fourth, the Cavaliers knuckled down defensively and held Boston without a field goal for nearly the last six minutes of regulation as they pulled away for the victory.
LeBron logged all 48 minutes on Sunday (after putting in 46 minutes on Friday night) and extended one of the most incredible postseason runs in NBA history – leading both squads in scoring, rebounds and assists as he reached the Finals for his eighth straight season, ninth for his career.
James set the tone both early and late, netting 12 of Cleveland’s 18 points in the first quarter and 12 of its 28 in the fourth.
Numeral 23 finished with a game-high 35 on the night – going 12-for-24 from the floor, including 3-of-8 from beyond the arc and 8-of-11 from the stripe, adding 15 boards, nine assists and a pair of blocked shots – including another highlight reel swat against Terry Rozier.
”The bigger the stage, the bigger the player, and he's been doing it for us since we've been here,” praised Coach Tyronn Lue. “The great quote from the great Doc Rivers is you always want to go into Game 7 with the best player, and we had the best player on our team going into a Game 7. I liked our chances. And he delivered again.”
In Game 5, the Cavaliers lost despite holding Boston to 37 percent shooting. But they cashed in on their brilliant defensive effort on Sunday – holding the Celtics to 34 percent shooting, including 17 percent from beyond the arc. Aside from Al Horford and Jayson Tatum, the remaining Celtics were just 13-for-56 from the floor, with their starting backcourt of Jaylen Brown and Rozier combining to go 7-for-32.
The Cavaliers were without the services of All-Star forward Kevin Love, who missed Sunday’s Game 7 after being placed in the NBA’s concussion protocol following a nasty head-to-head collision with Jayson Tatum in Friday night’s contest at The Q.
Jeff Green, who was stellar in relief of Love in Game 6, got the start and responded with another outstanding performance – notching 19 points on 7-for-14 shooting to go with eight boards and a blocked shot.
”I'm in the moment; this is the moment,” said Green. “I mean, I give everything to this game. To have the opportunity, playing a Game 7, go to the Finals in the Garden. I spent four years here, and the opportunity was right there – and I wanted it bad.”
JR Smith canned some key three-pointers on the night – finishing with 12 points on 3-of-8 shooting from long-range, adding four boards, a steal and a blocked shot.
Tristan Thompson was the fourth Cavalier starter to tally double-figures, chipping in with 10 points on a perfect 4-of-4 from the floor, adding nine boards and rendering Boston’s Aron Baynes completely ineffective – holding the Celtics starting big to three points and without a single shot attempt.
Boston got solid performances from impressive rookie Jayson Tatum, who led the Celtics with 24 points – going 9-for-17 from the floor before fouling out late in the affair and five-time All-Star Al Horford also excelled, adding 17 points on 7-for-17 shooting.
But the Celtics simply couldn’t hit a big shot when they needed it most as Cleveland held them to seven triples (on 39 attempts) and just three fast break points on the night.
The biggest lead for either team was 12 points and for just the second time in the series, the lead changed hands in the second half, with both squads jockeying back and forth until the Cavaliers asserted their dominance in the second half of the final period.
With the win, the Cavaliers became just the fourth franchise to reach the Finals in four straight seasons – joining the Celtics (1957-1966, 1984-1987), Lakers (1982-1985) and Heat (2011-2014).
”This season has been something else, that it’s going to end in the Finals is really amazing, it really is,” beamed Kyle Korver after the win. “All the ups and downs, and storylines, and drama and even in the playoffs. All these series to come here in the end and to know that we’re going to be playing for a championship in the end. It’s unbelievable.”
Turning Point -- The game was eventually decided over the final half of the fourth quarter – with Cleveland outscoring Boston, 16-6, over the last 6:04 to punch its ticket back to the NBA Finals.
But they might never have gotten to that point if they hadn’t cooled off the Celtics midway through the second quarter as Boston built a 12-point lead, looking for more.
The Celtics had won each of their first three home games of the series in convincing fashion, taking a first half lead and holding Cleveland off the rest of the way. On Sunday, they took a 12-point lead with 8:52 to play in the first half on Marcus Morris’ three-pointer.
Boston couldn’t capitalize from there, however, committing two straight turnovers that led to Cavalier buckets on the other end. Jeff Green scored on a turnaround hook shot with just under a minute to play in the half, capping a 16-5 run that put Cleveland back in business before intermission.
The rest, as they say, is history.
By the Numbers – 40.0, 11.5, 8.0 … LeBron James’ scoring, rebound and assist averages in two Game 7s this postseason – shooting 57 percent from the field, 45 percent from deep and 73 percent from the line, adding 2.0 steals and 1.0 blocks per. The 14-time All-Star is now 6-2 all-time in Game 7s – winning each of his last six.
Quotable – LeBron James, on playing all 48 minutes in Sunday’s closeout game …
”It was asked of me tonight to play the whole game, and I just tried to figure out how I could get through it. Throughout timeouts, I was able to catch my breath. At halftime, I didn't come out and warm up. That was my time to re-calibrate and catch my wind again. It's what's been asked of me from this ball club. I'm the leader of this team, and I'm going to give what I've got. My teammates, they respect that.”
Up Next -- The NBA Finals tip off on Thursday night, May 31 at 9 p.m. ET, although the Wine & Gold still aren’t sure who they’ll be facing when it rolls around. Against either Golden State or Houston, they’ll begin their quest for another title on the road. Game 2 will go down next Sunday night (6/3) at 8 p.m. before the series returns to Cleveland for two – with Game 3 taking place on Wednesday (6/6) at The Q, with Game 4 two nights later (6/8) – both 9 p.m. starts. From there, it’s back on the road for Game 5 the following Monday (6/11), Game 6 back in Cleveland on Thursday (6/14) and, should things go the distance, Game 7 back in the Western Conference on Sunday, June 17 at 8 p.m.