LeBron James

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Cavaliers 109, Celtics 99: And so it comes down to Game 7 in Garden for trip to Finals

John Tomase
May 26, 2018 - 12:15 am
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The Celtics looked giddy. Up five at the end of the first quarter, they had finally shed the yolk of insurmountable first quarter deficits on the road. At the very least, they'd take the Cavaliers to the buzzer. Maybe they'd even effectively lead wire to wire and book passage to the NBA Finals.

One problem. They still had to contend with three quarters of LeBron James.

That turned out to be at least one quarter too many, and now the teams are headed back to Boston for Sunday's winner-take-all Game 7. The victor will head to either Houston or Golden State for Game 1 of the Finals. The loser will head home for the summer wondering what it could've done differently.

If the Celtics fall short, they'll look at the second quarter of Game 6 as the turning point that derailed their improbable march to the finals.

The Celtics were outscored 34-18. They entered halftime down 11 and never sliced the deficit below seven thereafter in a 109-99 loss that keeps alive James' hopes of representing the East in an eight straight Finals.

He carried Cleveland in this one, scoring 46 points -- a career high for a potential elimination game -- while adding 11 rebounds, nine assists, and three steals. Celtics coach Brad Steven was asked if the challenge of defending James over 46 dominant minutes ever enters his mind.

"Does that ever come into our minds?" he told reporters in Cleveland. "Like, yeah, every time we watch.  Every time you're standing out there. Every time you watch him on film. Best player in the game. Special night tonight and special night in Game 4.  I can't say enough good things about him."

James' highlight-reel plays came in the final three minutes of the fourth quarter, when he nailed a pair of step-back 3-pointers over the outstretched arms of Celtics rookie Jayson Tatum, the latter as the shot clock expired. James responded with a primal scream that sent a message to the young Celtics: If you want my mantle, you're going to have to take it.

"Great defense by Tatum, great shots by LeBron," Stevens told reporters. "Hats off. Tremendous."

James was the star, but he didn't do it alone. Forward Kevin Love departed with zero points in the first quarter after banging heads with Tatum and did not return. In his absence, the Cavaliers bench stepped forward. Larry Nance Jr. scored 10 points and grabbed seven rebounds in 22 minutes, his put-backs a perpetual thorn in the Celtics' side. Old friend Jeff Green added 14 points, while Jordan Clarkson and Kyle Korver chipped in six apiece. The Cavaliers owned the rebounding battle, 44-31.

The Celtics, meanwhile, wasted 28 points from Terry Rozier and 27 from Jaylen Brown. Al Horford was limited to six points on 2-of-8 shooting, Aron Baynes was held scoreless, and Marcus Morris made just 3-of-10 shots from the field.

And so now we return to Boston on Sunday for a best-of-one series.

"It's win or go home," Stevens told reporters. "It's an absolute blast to prepare for as a coach and play in as a player."

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