It's time for the rubber match.
The Cleveland Cavaliers finished their Eastern Conference Finals victory over the Boston Celtics in Thursday's Game 5 at TD Garden, 135-102, and set up their third straight NBA Finals showdown against the Golden State Warriors. Golden State won the 2015 matchup, but Cleveland is the defending champion after overcoming a 3-1 deficit last year.
The Big Three of LeBron James (35 points, eight rebounds and eight assists), Kyrie Irving (24 points and seven assists) and Kevin Love (15 points, 11 rebounds and four steals) ensured there wouldn't be a Game 6 against Boston, while the team as a whole drilled 19 three-pointers in an offensive explosion.
Boston was still without the injured Isaiah Thomas and relied on Avery Bradley (23 points) to carry the offense in defeat.
LeBron James Makes History and Leads Cavs to Win
The Cavaliers weren't messing around after losing Game 3 and falling behind by double digits in Game 4. They unleashed the full power of their offensive arsenal in the first 12 minutes of Game 5 by pouring in a franchise-record 43 points in a quarter.
The Boston fans were left in despair just minutes after settling into their seats:
The only remaining drama was whether James would score the 28 points he needed to surpass Michael Jordan's record of 5,987 playoff points.
The King seized the record in the third quarter with a three-pointer:
James had his eyes on the mark from the opening tip and appeared well on his way to a triple-double with 11 points, six rebounds and four assists in the first quarter. He also cemented his status as the ultimate Celtics torturer in the opening stretch, as ESPN.com's Brian Windhorst noted:
He shot a blistering 13-of-18 from the field but finished short of the triple-double because he watched the fourth quarter of the comfortable win from the bench.
His performance sparked the blowout, clinched his spot as the greatest playoff scorer of all time and was more than enough to clinch his borderline absurd seventh straight trip to the Finals.
James was far from alone, though, as Irving, Love and even Deron Williams took turns exposing Boston's overmatched defense.
Celtics Can't Overcome Defensive Struggles
Boston's defense was nonexistent throughout the contest, securing its fate against the mighty Cavs.
James is an all-time great who will get his numbers, but Boston couldn't even contain the 32-year-old Williams. The backup point guard notched 14 points—all in the first half—and helped the Cavaliers bench keep the home team at bay after Cleveland jumped out to its commanding lead.
Boston's defense served as a de facto time machine:
Cleveland deserves plenty of credit for its performance, but the Celtics were No. 13 of 16 in postseason defensive rating entering the game, per NBA.com. Thursday's showing did those numbers no favors, especially when the visitors reached the century mark by the third quarter.
The Cavaliers overwhelmed Boston with their outside shooting, particularly when multiple defenders collapsed on James or Irving. Irving mixed in four triples of his own and had no trouble slicing through the opposition:
Elsewhere, Love posted a plus-43 in his 28 minutes, per ESPN.com.
Bradley did what he could with his 23 points, but he was left on an island as the only Celtics starter to score more than 11. He hit the winning three-pointer in Game 3, capping a furious Celtics comeback, but there would be no comeback Thursday with Cleveland torching Boston's defense.
The Eastern Conference champs now turn their attention to the rematch against the Warriors. The Finals don't start until Thursday, June 1, so both sides should be fresh when they take the floor.