An incredible season came to an end for the Boston Celtics on Sunday.
The Celtics headed into Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals with a 10-0 record at home in this year’s playoffs, but with arguably the best player in the league in LeBron James on their side, the Cleveland Cavaliers pulled off a 87-79 road win over Boston to clinch a spot in the NBA Finals.
James earned his eighth-straight trip to the Finals by posting yet another monster game, ending the night with 35 points, 15 rebounds and nine assists.
“He’s unbelievable,” Celtics head coach Brad Stevens said of James following the game. ”We’ve played now until May 25 and May 27 the last two years, and we started on Sept. 25, and that’s every day. Like every day that you’re totally focused on this. And he’s gone past that eight straight times. It’s ridiculous. And he does it at this level, with the pressure, with the scrutiny, doesn’t matter. It’s just unbelievable.”
The Cavaliers were without starter Kevin Love, who was ruled out due to concussion-like symptoms after bumping heads with Jayson Tatum in Game 6. Former Celtic Jeff Green started in Love’s place after his 14 points in Game 6 helped spark Cleveland off the bench. He finished Sunday night with 19 points and eight rebounds.
The Celtics led by as many as 12 points in the first half, committing only one turnover to Cleveland’s seven, but the Cavaliers went on a run of their own to cut the lead down as much as two.
After leading 43-39 at the half, the Celtics fell behind 56-51 after a trip to the line by Green, giving the Cavaliers their largest lead in the third. Cleveland had just a three-point lead at the start of the fourth and a Jayson Tatum 3-pointer helped give Boston one more lead at 72-71 with 6:04 left to play, but Cleveland finished the game on a 16-7 run.
“I talked about the pain is part of the path,” Stevens said. “We’ve been really fortunate to continuously get better the last couple of years and put ourselves in better positions, but when it ends, it’s painful. But that is part of the path, so we have to let it motivate us.”
The Celtics’ 3-point shooting was one of its downfalls Sunday, as the team went 7-for-39 for 17.9 percent, but Tatum served as one of the few offensive bright spots with 24 points. Al Horford notched 17 points, followed by Marcus Morris and Jaylen Brown respectively.
“I just love everything about the kid,” James said of Tatum. “The way he plays the game, his demeanor, where he comes from. I know his parents, and I know he’s just built for stardom. He’s built for success. That’s both on and off the floor.”
Without stars Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward, not many had the Celtics making it to the Eastern Conference Finals, but resiliency led them back for the second-straight year. Boston fans applauded the team as the buzzer sounded.
“We have nothing to hang our heads about,” Horford said following the game. “I think the effort was great. Obviously, I’m disappointed that we couldn’t reach that next level. I think for our group, for myself, we all need to look at the work that we did this season and understand that there’s a lot more work to do in order to reach that next level.”
The Cavaliers now go on to face the winner between the Golden State Warriors and the Houston Rockets in the NBA Finals.