It wasn’t the farewell most sports writers predicted as LeBron James put the Cleveland Cavaliers on his back and carried the depleted team to a 4th straight NBA Finals appearance against formidable foes, the Golden State Warriors.
The Warriors are 2-1 over LeBron in NBA Finals titles.
LeBron finished game 7 with 35 points, 15 rebounds and nine assists in a tough road win over the Boston Celtics to clinch the Eastern Conference Finals on Sunday.
Meanwhile, Steph Curry and Kevin Durant needed the assistance of the referees to put away James Harden and the Houston Rockets. he Rockets lost Chris Paul to a hamstring injury in game 5.
The Celtics’ post-season wasn’t supposed to end like this. With a perfect 10-0 home court advantage, Boston was slightly favored heading into game 7 on Sunday.
The Celtics were poised to break LeBron’s streak despite the loss of two key starters, shooting guard Kyrie Irving (knee surgery in March) and Gordon Hayward, who broke his ankle in the season opener against these same Cavaliers.
But Cleveland was also shorthanded. All-Star Kevin Love was ruled out with a concussion after bumping heads with Boston’s forward Jayson Tatum in game 6.
Game 7 was expected to be a blowout after the Celtics won their 1st 3 games against Cleveland by an average of 17 points.
But Cleveland had LeBron James, who looked to extend his streak of 7 straight NBA Finals appearances.
“You’ve got to be poised. You’ve got to be able to handle a punch or two,” LeBron said. “We know it’s challenging. They’re 10-0 on their home floor, and they’ve been very successful against us, obviously, at home. But if you love challenges, then this is a great opportunity.”
If the Celtics were concerned about LeBron blocking their path to the NBA Finals, they didn’t show it.
“We know LeBron is different than a lot of other guys, but we’ve got to get the job done,” Celtics guard Terry Rozier said. “That’s no excuse, so we’re looking forward to it.”
Cleveland forward Larry Nance, Jr. was optimistic of the team’s chances on Sunday.
“I think (coach Tyronn Lue) said it best: ‘We’re going into a Game 7 with the baddest dude on the planet on our team.’ I like our chances.”
Game 1 of the 2018 NBA Finals is Thursday in Oakland.
Photos by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images, Adam Glanzman/Getty Images, Maddie Meyer/Getty Images