It didn’t take long for the sniping to start, did it? I’d say minutes.
Yes, minutes after LeBron James, with a little help from his friend Jeff Green, had eliminated the Celtics from the NBA playoffs Sunday night, 87-79, the barbs started flying.
“The Celtics suck.” “I could have made those shots.” “They settled for too many three-pointers.” “They were awful!”
Wait a minute! This was a team that lost All-Star Gordon Hayward in the first quarter of the first game of the season and All-Star Kyrie Irving in March. A team of potential stars in Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Terry Rozier, the key word being potential. A team everybody expected to be one and done in the playoffs.
Instead, the Celtics gave us a spectacular ride to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals. And they would be taking us to the NBA Finals against the Golden State Warriors were it not for LeBron James. Cleveland won the Eastern Conference title because they had LeBron James and Boston did not. It’s that simple.
Once again, for the eighth consecutive year and the ninth timein his career, LeBron loaded his teammates on his massive shoulders and took them to the Finals. He played all 48 minutes, scored 35 points, hauled in 15 rebounds and passed for 9 assists. After a slow start, he took over with his offense, whether backing a poor defender toward the paint and then twisting for a layup or burying a three-pointer from 28 feet. He took over with his defense, sweeping rebounds off the glass and blocking shots. In the fourth quarter he threw an errant pass to Rozier. Instead of watching Rozier go for an uncontested dunk, he sprinted back, went up with the Celtics guard and blocked the shot off the glass.
Once again he demonstrated that he is The Best Ever. Better than Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Oscar Robertson, Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell. As the Providence Journal columnist Kevin McNamara noted, LeBron has led his team to 12 wins in 15 elimination games and six consecutive Game 7 victories. He has stymied the Celtics five times. In this series he averaged 33.6 points, 9 rebounds and 8.4 assists. “Unbelievable,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. “The best . . . amazing,” Cavs coach Ty Lue added.
As great as he is, Lebron did not win Game 7 by himself. He needed help, and Green, the former Celtic, provided it with 19 points, 9 coming on a trio of timely three-pointers.
The Celtics chose the worst time to play their worst game. The patience and poise they displayed throughout the season, especially in the playoffs, were missing when most needed. They led 35-23 with 8:43 to play in the first half and then turned the ball over, missed layups and clanged wide-open three-point shots. In the fourth quarter, the outcome still in doubt, they resorted to quick threes and missed. They scored three points in the last 4:44. Boston shot only 34 percent (29-85) and just 18 percent (7-39) from three-point range. Brown was 3-12 and Rozier 0-10 from beyond the arc. The Cavs shot 45 percent (30-66) from the floor but only 26 percent (9-35) from three-point range.
Critics must admit that Game 7 notwithstanding, the Celtics were fun to watch this season, which lasted longer than anybody predicted after Irving checked out. And it ended Sunday night mostly because of LeBron James, The Best Ever.