It appears we have a sequel on our hands.
The Miami Heat and the Boston Celtics will once again lock horns in a matchup of the NBA's two most bitter rivals today. LeBron James will have to go up against the one team that seemed to always have his number, up until last year when he finally took a series from them—although not without help from his new bosom super-buddies.
Sorry, LeBron, back in the pool.
This, of course, was not part of the plan. After defeating the Celtics in the 2011 Eastern Conference Semifinals, LeBron spoke of them as if they were firmly and permanently in his rear-view mirror. They were supposed to be on their last legs, supposed to fade harmlessly into that good night under the sheer weight of old age, and never torment the boy-king again.
The Celtics were supposed to be vanquished, neutralized, a non-factor in LeBron James’ ongoing quest for the championship he feels entitled to. Accordingly, LeBron had convinced himself that one symbolic postseason drubbing was all he needed to be home-free, judging by the air of conclusive accomplishment in his and D-Wade's celebration at the end of the series.
On another level, however, you could see that LeBron had not fully exorcised his Boston demons, from the way he continuously referred to them as “that team,” as if speaking their name aloud would make Rondo, Pierce and Garnett reappear behind him like Candyman. LeBron's fear of the Celtics, it seemed, still lingered; his demeanor was one part triumph and three parts wishful relief that his nightmare was over.
With reality hitting home that it isn't, the "king" will presumably approach this series with an air of desperation, kicking and screaming on the inside as he’s forced to face (yet again) the greatest bogeyman of his life—the team that led the best player in the world to throw away his reputation in Miami rather than go toe-to-toe with them again.
As in all areas of life, desperation can be a great motivator, as can the indignation LeBron most likely feels at being confronted yet again by a team that should have simply gone away a year ago. Figuratively speaking, expect LeBron to go at the Celtics like a slasher movie character hacking furiously at the un-killable bad guy screaming, “Why won’t you die?!”
The Celtics are one of the few teams not only to stand up to LeBron and the Heat, but also to repeatedly crack them in their collective mouths. Under the right circumstances, the Celtics can take the role of bully out of Miami’s hands and push this team around some, and LeBron would prefer not to expose himself to that again.
As such, he will likely go in with his head down, looking to mercilessly hammer the C’s right from the opening tip, for fear that a single moment's let-up would allow them to get their bearings and make it a tougher series than expected—which, as we all know, makes the “king” fold faster than origami.
The Celtics are hoping LeBron once again underestimates them, but this is not likely to happen. He's presumably on high-alert, still licking his emotional wounds from the last time he took them lightly. On the contrary, expect LeBron to play like he's facing the NBA's best squad, in order to completely stamp out the possibility of another knock-down, drag-out affair, which he doesn't excel at—and which Boston does.
LeBron is ready for the fight of his life against the Celts, and he stands to play out of his mind. This is meant to be taken not as a testament to his heart or his desire for a challenge—this humble writer would submit that he has shown himself to possess neither—but as an indication of the healthy fear he has of suffering another unexpected Beantown beatdown.
He should be expected to come out swinging like a madman, because the moment he stops, he could potentially leave the door open to one of those patented LeMeltdowns. By now, he’s got enough historical evidence to realize this on his own, despite the fact that he loves to think of himself as invincible.
Make no mistake, the Heat are the clear favorites in this series, but Boston has a habit of playing up to the level of better teams by throwing a wrench in their gears (most often defensively). If LeBron plays anything less than the best basketball he's ever played, he has to be aware that he could find himself re-visiting his own personal hell as a victim of the Celtics' "never back down" attitude.
The same personal hell that drove him to turn his career upside down and join Team Overkill.