Posted on May 28, 2018, by Travis Pulver
According to an old saying, the only two certainties in life are death and taxes. However, while that has been true for years and years, it is not exactly true anymore. Death and taxes are still a certainty but so is LeBron James when his back is against the wall. It certainly was in Game Seven of the Eastern Conference Finals Sunday night in Boston.
The game was exactly what James needed—ugly. An ugly game is much easier for a single player to dominate and control the game. A 35-point, 15 rebound, and nine assist-night is a good one if the team scores 120-points. But it is much more impactful if a game is ugly and low scoring.
Sunday night’s game was certainly not a very attractive one by ether team. Jayson Tatum got the Celtics off on the right foot by getting Boston out to an early 11-4 lead (he scored seven). But the Cavs roared back with a 13-2 run of their own (lead by James of course; he had 12 of Cleveland’s 16 points).
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The Celtics responded with a 10-2 run to close the quarter and take an eight-point lead into the second.
Early in the second, it began to look like Boston might run away with it. They stretched their lead out to 12-points, 35-23, in the opening minutes. But then they went ice cold and failed to hit a basket for close to four minutes.
That opened the door for Cleveland who was able to pull within two, 39-37, late in the quarter. But heading into halftime, the Celtics held a 43-39 lead.
The poor play continued in the second half. The Celtics had chances to extend their lead, but missed shots and turnovers kept that from happening. Instead, they let the Cavs stay in the game long enough to heat up and take it over.
An 11-4 run that started about five minutes into the half saw the Cavs take a 55-51 lead with four minutes to play. The game remained close for the rest of the quarter with Cleveland ahead by three, 59-56 when it ended.
Boston got back in front thanks to a quick 5-0 run to start the fourth. But they wouldn’t lead again following a Kyle Korver three-pointer at the 9:28 point in the game. They kept it close, but that was just as much a result of both teams failing to generate any offense than anything else.
Cleveland didn’t start to pull away until the final two minutes. A late three-pointer by Jaylen Brown made the final, 87-79.
James led the way for the Cavaliers with 35 points, 15 rebounds, and nine assists. He also had a pair of blocks and never came out of the game.
“It was asked of me tonight to play the whole game,” he said after the game (ESPN). “And I just tried to figure out how I can get through it.”
While that played into Boston’s game plan, the Celtics were not able to take advantage of it:
“Our goal going into the series was to make him exert as much energy as humanly possible and try to be as good as we can on everybody else,” Celtics head coach Brad Stevens said after the game (ESPN). “For the most part, I thought we were pretty good at that … but he still scored 35. It’s a joke.”
They didn’t do a bad job against the rest of the Cavs. Jeff Green scored 19, and J.R. Smith had 12. They held the Cavs to just 66 shots (of which the Cavs made 45.5 percent) and allowed just nine of 35 from three-point range.
But when they needed some offense the most, they couldn’t muster any against a team with notoriously bad defense. Jayson Tatum led the way with 24 points and seven rebounds. But Terry Rozier and Jaylen Brown hit just seven of 32 shots for 17 points. As a team, the Celtics hit just 29 of 85 shots from the floor and seven of 19 from three-point range.
While it wasn’t pretty, it was good enough to earn the Cavaliers their fourth consecutive trip to the NBA Finals and an eighth straight trip for LeBron James.
Game One will be Thursday night against either the Houston Rockets or Golden State Warriors.