It looked like a familiar story was unfolding for the Cleveland Cavaliers at the end of the first quarter in game 7 against the Boston Celtics. The Cavs were held under 20 points once again, they were down 26-18 and everyone wondered who else would step up for the Cavs. LeBron James had 12 of the 18 points.
Deep in the second quarter James had more made field goals than the rest of his teammates combined. However, in that second quarter the Cavs did something that they failed to do the entire series while in Boston. In a close game they managed to hold the Celtics to under 20 points in a quarter. The Cavs outscored the Celtics 21-17 and that allowed them to make a push in the 3rd quarter.
Cleveland followed that up by holding the Celtics to just 13 points in the 3rd quarter. This was a drag out ugly game that reminded me of the 2007 Eastern Conference Finals between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Detroit Pistons. In that series there were three games in which both teams scored under 90 points. Back then the Cavs were a defensive team built around LeBron James, this season the Cavaliers were horrible on defense all season but for some reason defense saved the Cavs season.
The Celtics struggled all season with their offense but in this series at home against the Cavs they averaged 103 points per game. The Celtics young core of Jason Tatum, Terry Rozier and Jaylen Brown shot 5-22 from 3-point range. Rozier was 0-10 from downtown, finished with four points and got his dunk attempt blocked by LeBron James. The rookie Tatum came to play but he had four of the Celtics five turnovers.
Boston did just enough to win this game but they didn’t have a LeBron James. Boston was undefeated at home in this playoffs, they only had five turnovers, forced the Cavs into 12 turnovers and held the Cavs to 9-35 from 3-point range. They scored 26 points in the first quarter but only 36 in the 2nd half.
Defense wins’ championships and the Cavs put forth their best defensive effort of the season. Much credit goes to Jeff Green who was inserted into the starting lineup for Kevin Love. Green started game 1 of the playoffs against the Pacers, he went 0-7 in 27 minutes and was out of the starting lineup after that. Jeff Green poured in 19 points, grabbed eight rebounds and knocked down a couple of 3-pointers.
The other guy who helped LeBron James was J.R. Smith. Coming into game 7, Smith had not made a 3-pointer in Boston. He was 0-11 in three games and in game 7 he knocked down three 3-pointers and three free throws.
What can be said about LeBron James that hasn’t been said already? This was his 235th playoff game, this was his 100th game of the season. He played all 48 minutes, put up 35 points, grabbed 15 rebounds and dished out nine assists while still shooting 50% from the field. He has won six straight game 7s and averages 34.9 ppg in game 7s.
This team was broken before the season started when Kyrie Irving was traded in the summer. Half the team was traded mid-season and they struggled in the first round series against an inexperienced Pacers team. Somehow LeBron found a way to push this team over the hump. A game winning shot against the Pacers, a big game 7 against the Pacers, another game winner against the Raptors, a sweep of the number 1 seed and finally an epic game 7 performance in Boston for his eighth straight NBA Finals appearance.
The running joke will be oh he’s just going to lose to the Warriors or Rockets and his Finals record will be 3-6. For those who think like that, stop it. Appreciate the greatness that is LeBron James. Whether or not he wins the championship this season will go down in history as one of his greatest accomplishments. Year 15 and an eighth straight NBA Finals appearance with a new cast of characters.