LeBron James won't be here in his fully physical form until Sunday, but what mattered is that the Celtics kept their Eastern Conference finals date with the King.
Lebron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers drives to the basket during a game against the Boston Celtics at TD Garden on February 11, 2018 in Boston, Massachusetts. Love averaged just 11.5 points per game in the opening round while shooting 33.3% from the field and hitting just 1.7 free throws per game. Boston clinched the series with a 114-112 home victory in Game 5.
These two teams played in a highly anticipated regular-season opener, won by Cleveland on a night that included Gordon Hayward's horrific season-ending ankle injury.
Saturday, May 19: Boston at Cleveland, 8:30 p.m. James, who famously left Cleveland in 2010 and signed with the Miami Heat, could bolt again if he feels the Cavs and 76ers are both trending in different directions. Look for the Celtics to earn a hard-fought win in Game 1 and send an early statement. In typical LeBron fashion, he completely defied the naysayers by playing just as well this series as the last.
VanVleet was a key piece of Friday's win, returning from a shoulder injury that sidelined him for all but three minutes of the series' first five games.
But he admits it's gotten a little out of hand this season.
After the Cavs beat the Celtics in five games in last year's conference finals to advance to their third straight NBA Finals, there were no hints the two franchises would ramp up their rivalry with a trade that caught their entire league, well, off-guard.
Betting against the Celtics so far this postseason has not been a smart play. That is not to say he won't have a good series, but in order for the Celtics to compete with the Cavaliers, Brown will need to be much more productive. He noted that, although he's well aware of Irving's ability (the injured point guard averaged 25.8 points against Boston in the 2017 conference finals), people shouldn't be shocked by the success Brad Stevens and the Celtics' young core have had without the two All-Stars. Boston's has been solid at the charity stripe as they sink 76.2 percent of their chances.
Prediction: I see this series going seven games. However, there is good reason for why this playoff run has went the way it has.
While Stevens deserves credit in James' eyes, focusing too much on the absences of Irving and Hayward means Al Horford, Jayson Tatum, Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown, Terry Rozier and the rest of the Celtics don't get their proper due. Marcus Morris struggled to shoot one for 10 from the floor and finished with six points. They will get their opportunities to shine just by LeBron's presence, but they must be careful in this series. The Cavs are seasoned and now what it takes. If they keep playing at this level, they will give the Cavaliers some problems.
For all intents and purposes, this is the real NBA Finals. They opened as underdogs in every single game of the second round. But even then, they can expect a lot of pick and rolls to get Steph back on the ball. Boston will have to be sharper in crunch time here if they are going to handle what Cleveland brings to the table. In the past, he has had some of the biggest moments of his career against the Celtics.