Heading into Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals, there was one thing everyone was sure of: LeBron James would come to play. James certainly didn’t disappoint, and his teammates added enough support to allow the Cleveland Cavaliers to put away the Boston Celtics 87-79 and advance to the NBA Finals.
The victory marked the first time either team had won a game on the road in this series. It was also the first time the Celtics had lost a game at TD Garden during this postseason.
LeBron Does It Again
James solidified his position among the all-time NBA greats with his performance on Sunday night. LeBron played all 48 minutes, scoring 35 points, collecting 15 rebounds, and dishing out nine assists.
Even Celtics coach Brad Stevens was in awe of what James had accomplished in Game 7.
“He’s unbelievable,” Stevens told reporters after the game. “Does it at this level, with the pressure, with the scrutiny. Doesn’t matter.”
The Celtics nearly pulled off what most observers thought was impossible heading into the playoffs. The team was missing stars Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward due to injury, leaving a young, relatively inexperienced group to fight their way through the playoffs.
For a while on Sunday, it looked like that group would be heading to the NBA Finals. The Celtics were up by as many as 12 points during the first half, and still held the lead through much of the third quarter before the Cavaliers took the advantage.
But the game remained close right into the final minutes. Boston was down just three points with under four minutes to play, and Al Horford had an open look to tie the game. But Horford, who shot 42 percent from 3-point range this season, couldn’t convert his opportunity, and the Celtics never got another chance to tie or take the lead.
That was symptomatic of the Celtics struggles shooting all night. Boston went 7-for-39 on 3-pointers, and shot just 34 percent overall from the field.
“We put ourselves in position,” Horford said after the loss. “We were one or two shots away from being there, and it just wasn’t enough.”
Green Steps Up for Love
The Cavaliers were added by 19 points and eight rebounds from Jeff Green, who was playing in place of Kevin Love, who missed the game after being placed in the NBA’s concussion protocol on Saturday.
“We said we want to do this for Kevin,” Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue said after the game. “Kevin wanted to play, to be in a Game 7 situation like this in the Eastern Conference finals, being an All-Star, being our second-best player, and he just wasn’t able to go.”
The Cavaliers will now wait to see who they play in the finals, as the Houston Rockets and Golden State Warriors are knotted at three games each heading into their own Game 7 on Monday night. No matter who they play, they’ll be a significant underdog: bookmakers like William Hill have Cleveland as a 9/2 pick to win the NBA championship.
The only thing on LeBron’s mind, though, is the fact that he has reached the NBA Finals for the 8th consecutive season.
“We have an opportunity to play for a championship,” James said after the win. “It doesn’t matter what the story line is going to be, it doesn’t matter if we’re picked to win or not. I’m the wrong guy to ask. I just like to compete.”