LeBron James Reaches NBA Finals for 8th Time in a Row as Cavaliers Beat Celtics

Scott Polacek@@ScottPolacekFeatured ColumnistMay 28, 2018

Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James celebrates a basket against the Boston Celtics during the second half in Game 7 of the NBA basketball Eastern Conference finals, Sunday, May 27, 2018, in Boston. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)
Elise Amendola/Associated Press

LeBron James is synonymous with the NBA Finals at this point.

The four-time MVP led the Cleveland Cavaliers to an 87-79 victory over the Boston Celtics in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals on Sunday at TD Garden, clinching his eighth straight NBA Finals appearance. He finished with 35 points, 15 rebounds and nine assists as he carried a team playing without Kevin Love (concussion).

Jayson Tatum (24 points and seven rebounds) and Al Horford (17 points) spearheaded Boston's effort, but their teammates went missing as the Celtics shot an abysmal 7-of-39 (17.9 percent) from deep.

             

Young Celtics' Future Is Bright Despite Shooting Their Way to Game 7 L

Celtics fans are surely frustrated after Jaylen Brown (5-of-18), Terry Rozier (2-of-14) and Marcus Smart (1-of-10) built a brick house in their biggest game of the season, but things are trending in the right direction.

It is frankly incredible Boston came within one disappointing fourth quarter of the NBA Finals after losing Gordon Hayward to a fractured ankle minutes into the season and Kyrie Irving for the entire playoffs. It constantly adapted on the fly in a testament to head coach Brad Stevens and figures to be a major force in the East for years to come.

Tatum and Brown are two young building blocks who are now battle-tested after holding their own against one of the greatest players in NBA history on the brightest stage the Eastern Conference has to offer for seven games.

Tatum in particular didn't back down, dunking over James and getting in his face before drilling a go-ahead three on the next possession in the fourth quarter.

There are some roster questions since Horford has a player option for next season, Rozier has a qualifying offer for 2019-20 and Smart has a qualifying offer for next season, but the thought of Irving operating an offense flanked by Tatum, Hayward and Brown should be terrifying for the rest of the conference.

           

LeBron Haters Silenced as Big-Game Legacy Grows

Is there a knock against this guy in 2018?

Long gone are the days when Cleveland fans burned James' jersey as he took his talents to South Beach or NBA pundits across the country questioned his effort in a 2011 NBA Finals loss to the Dallas Mavericks.

After playing all 82 games and leading the NBA in total minutes in his 15th season that included a complete roster overhaul, James played all 48 minutes in front of a hostile Boston crowd without his primary running mate and silenced it. It was the Celtics' first loss at TD Garden this postseason, but dominating a Game 7 was business as usual for James.

Fans can talk circles around each other in the debate over James and Michael Jordan, but he further cemented his legacy with this performance and capped an Eastern Conference playoffs that included multiple buzzer-beaters, two Game 7 victories and a sweep of the top seed.

Brian Windhorst of ESPN.com said James' ninth career Eastern Conference crown "would qualify as perhaps his most meaningful" following "all the challenges, misadventures and misgivings that have engulfed the Cavs this season."

Yet he once again swatted the East's best challengers away just like he swatted Terry Rozier's attempt to dunk over him in the second half Sunday before staring him down with the action on the other end.

Keep staring, LeBron, because the East is your kingdom.

            

Cavaliers Reveal Blueprint to Stealing NBA Finals

Let's get this out of the way now—the Western Conference champion is going to be a significant favorite in the Finals, especially if it's the defending champion Golden State Warriors with their four All-Stars.

After all, Golden State handled Cleveland in five games last year, and the Cavaliers had Irving on the roster. This year's version relied on Jeff Green (19 points and eight rebounds) to be James' second fiddle in Game 7 and has questions about Love's health moving forward.

Still, Houston (Chris Paul) and Golden State (Andre Iguodala) have health issues of their own, and Sunday revealed a game plan in which the Cavs made it ugly on the road, swarming outside shooters and limiting ball-handlers' room to operate. Golden State and Houston are both loaded with shooters on the outside, but an ugly, defensive contest that comes down to the final minutes would at least give Cleveland a chance.

And it would also put James in a position where he could carry the Cavaliers across the finish line, much like he did in the 2016 Finals against Golden State.

         

What's Next?

The Cavaliers turn their attention to a fourth straight NBA Finals, which starts Thursday. They will face the winner of Monday's Game 7 between Golden State and Houston and could have the chance to avenge last season's loss to the Warriors.

As for Boston, it will now attempt to get Irving and Hayward healthy before making another run next season.

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