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Looking back: LeBron James and Cleveland Cavaliers rally past Boston Celtics in 2018 Eastern Conference finals

LeBron James against the Boston Celtics in 2018
LeBron James against the Boston Celtics in 2018
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Joseph Praveen

The Boston Celtics have won 40 of their 41 playoff series after winning the first two games. Their only series loss came against the Cleveland Cavaliers, led by LeBron James, in 2018.

Let’s look at that series, which also ruined the Celtics’ chances of going to the NBA Finals for the first time since 2010.

2017 offseason moves and draft

The Celtics signed forward Gordon Hayward in free agency, who was an All-Star the previous season with Utah. They also acquired Kyrie Irving in a blockbuster trade that sent Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic and a pick to the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Plus, despite finishing first in the Eastern Conference in 2016-17, Boston had the draft's first pick from a previous trade with the Brooklyn Nets. The Celtics traded that pick to the Philadelphia 76ers, picking Duke forward Jayson Tatum at No. 3.

With a combination of young players and veterans, the team was set for a title run.

Kyrie Irving, left, and Gordon Hayward
Kyrie Irving, left, and Gordon Hayward

2017-18 regular season

Boston had an upsetting start as Gordon Hayward suffered a fractured ankle in the season opener, ruling him out for the entire year. However, behind their new leader, Kyrie Irving, and contributions from Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, the team finished second (55-27) in the East.

Playoffs – First round and conference semifinals

In the first round, the Boston Celtics fought off the Milwaukee Bucks in seven games. Boston then faced the Philadelphia 76ers and Joel Embiid, then a first-time All-Star, in the Eastern Conference semifinals. Boston wrapped up the series in five games to reach the Eastern finals in consecutive years.

A known enemy

It was a year when the Cleveland Cavaliers’ front office made a lot of moves, making trades before and during the season. It only left an additional burden on LeBron James' shoulders to carry the team yet again, like he did in the 2000s. This time, there was help from his All-Star teammate, Kevin Love.

The Cavs defeated the Indiana Pacers in the first round in seven games. They then swept the first-seeded Toronto Raptors to meet Boston in a repeat of the 2017 Eastern Conference finals.

Eastern Conference finals: The LeBron Show

The Celtics dominated the first two games, winning 108-83 in Game 1 and 107-94, despite LeBron James' 42 points, in Game 2.

The odds and history were in favor of the Celtics winning the series as they had never lost a series after winning the first two games.

But James had other plans.

When the series moved to Cleveland for two games, James scored 27 and 44 points. Cleveland won 116-86 in Game 3 and 111-102 in Game 4.

In a crucial Game 5 in Boston, with the team that wins then favored to take the series, the Celtics won 96-83 behind Tatum and Al Horford.

Even after the 2016 NBA Finals, little did anyone realize that records were meant to be broken for James.

The King (35 PTS, 15 REB & 9 AST) came up BIG against Boston 👑Cavaliers vs. Celtics, 2018 ECF Game 7 - 2pm ET on NBA TV! https://t.co/TbYYqo4OKG

In Game 6, despite Terry Rozier (28 points) and Jaylen Brown (27), James' 46 points and 11 rebounds powered a 109-99 Cleveland win. That sent the series back to Boston for a series-deciding Game 7.

Although James had a 5-2 record in Game 7s to that point, one of the two losses came against Boston in 2008. Despite this, the odds were slowly swinging towards Cleveland’s side, and all of a sudden the Celtics were the underdogs.

The 34-year-old James played all 48 minutes, totaling 35 points, 15 rebounds and nine assists. If the best player on the planet plays the entire game and gets some support, the result is most likely going to be in that team’s favor. That was the case as Cleveland defeated Boston 87-79 in becoming the first to defeat the Celtics when they led a playoff series 2-0.

Young core of Boston Celtics: Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart
Young core of Boston Celtics: Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart
Marcus Smart is presented with his Kia NBA Defensive Player of the Year award in front of the fans in Boston before Game 2. #KiaDPOY #NBAAwards #NBA75 https://t.co/ZpqpObpGKG

Though Boston lost the series, the young core showed what the team was capable of and the bright future it had. This has been reflected in their postseason showings since. They now have the identity of being the NBA's best defensive team, behind Defensive Player of the Year Marcus Smart.

Although the team has parted ways with Irving and Hayward, it has built around Tatum and Brown. They are not only the future of their team but also the league.


Edited by Joseph Schiefelbein
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