Game 1 of the 2018 Eastern Conference finals marked the beginning of the latest chapter of a 10-year saga - it signified the seventh series played between a LeBron James-led team and the Celtics since 2008.
James has an all-time playoff series record against the Celtics of 5-2. After losing the first two series in 2008 and 2010, James-led teams have won the last five series against the Celtics.
In 41 playoff games against Boston, James is 25-16. The 14-time All-Star has posted career postseason averages of 29.6 points, 8.5 rebounds and 6.3 assists against the Celtics. He has eclipsed the 30-point mark in 24 of the 41 games, scoring 40 or more points on six occasions.
James has faced Boston as a member of the Heat and Cavs franchises, winning and losing by margins large and small. Over the 10-year span, LeBron has gone against three different eras of Celtics basketball.
From his legendary Game 6 performance against the "Big Three" in 2012 to the Cavs' 44-point win over Boston in 2017, here's a closer look at the playoff history between James and the Celtics…
2008 Eastern Conference semifinals - Celtics win 4-3
James: 26.7 points, 7.6 assists, 6.4 rebounds,
In the first year of the "Big Three" era, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen led the Celtics to 66 wins and the Eastern Conference's No. 1 seed. LeBron's league-leading 30 points per game propelled Cleveland to 45 wins and the East's No. 4 seed.
After the Celtics' surprising seven-game battle with the eighth-seeded Hawks (led by rookie Al Horford) and the Cavs' six-game series win over the No. 5 Wizards, the conference semifinals stage was set.
Both teams defended their home courts, setting up a decisive Game 7 at TD Garden. Boston, favoured by many to represent the East in the NBA Finals, had been pushed to the limit for the second consecutive series; only this time, the Celtics' opponent had the league's leading scorer.
Game 7 saw James (45 points) and Pierce (41 points) engage in one of the biggest scoring duels in NBA postseason history. Though LeBron outscored the Celtics' leader, Boston won the game, 97-92, to advance to the Eastern Conference finals.
For the series, James averaged 26.7 points, 7.6 assists, 6.4 rebounds and 2.1 steals per game. LeBron's 2008 semifinal series will be remembered for his monstrous dunk in Game 4 and his 45-point performance in Game 7.
The 2008 Celtics went on to defeat Kobe Bryant and the Lakers in the 2008 Finals.
2010 Eastern Conference semifinals - Celtics win 4-2
James: 26.8 points, 9.3 rebounds, 7.2 assists, 2.2 steals
Two years after the first meeting, the script was flipped. James earned league MVP honors for the second consecutive year by leading Cleveland to 61 wins and the East's No. 1 seed. The 50-win Celtics, led by Pierce, Garnett and Allen, finished fourth.
Cleveland rolled past the No. 8 Bulls in the first round while Boston advanced past fifth-seeded Miami in five games to set up the second semifinal matchup between the Cavs and Celtics in three years.
Boston and Cleveland split the first four games of the series, setting up a pivotal Game 5. The Celtics dismantled the Cavs, winning 120-88; James, who was struggling with an elbow injury, finished with 15 points on 3-of-14 shooting in the loss. LeBron's Game 6 triple-double (27 points, 19 rebounds, 10 assists) was not enough as his shooting woes continued. James finished the game just 8-of-21 from the field, and the Celtics advanced to the Eastern Conference finals with a 94-85 win.
LeBron posted averages of 26.8 points, 9.3 rebounds, 7.2 assists and 2.2 steals per game in the 2010 semifinal loss, but the lasting image from the series came after it had ended. Following the Celtics' Game 6 win, James removed his jersey in the tunnel of TD Garden as he left the floor. Ahead of his free agency, many wondered if that would be the last time he would be seen in a Cleveland jersey.
Boston advanced to the NBA Finals, losing in seven games to the Lakers in a rematch from 2008. Three weeks after Game 7 of the Finals, James announced his intentions to sign with the Heat.
2011 Eastern Conference semifinals - Heat win 4-1
James: 28.0 points, 8.2 rebounds, 3.6 assists
In addition to acquiring James in the offseason of 2010, the Heat re-signed 2006 Finals MVP Dwyane Wade and acquired perennial All-Star forward Chris Bosh to form a "Big Three" of their own. Miami finished second in the East by winning 58 games; the Celtics' 56 wins earned them the No. 3 spot in the East.
From the beginning of the series, things felt different from years past. Pierce, Garnett and Allen were all a year older, and Miami's three All-Stars were primed to take advantage of the opportunity at hand.
Wade's 38 points in Game 1 and James' 35 points in Game 2 led Miami to a 2-0 lead over the 2008 champs. After Boston protected its home court to win Game 3, James scored 35 points and pulled down 14 rebounds in Game 4 to bring the Heat within one win of the conference finals.
With 3:45 remaining in Game 5, Boston led 87-82. The Heat couldn't afford to lose at home with the opportunity to close out; if the series were to go back to Boston, a winner-take-all Game 7 would seem to be inevitable, as it was unlikely the Celtics would drop two at home. At that point, the breakthrough happened.
LeBron found sharpshooter James Jones in transition for a 3-pointer to cut the Celtics' lead to two. Jones' jumper sparked the Heat to close the game on a 15-0 run to beat the Celtics 97-87. James scored 10 of the 15 points, including two huge shots from deep on consecutive possessions to put Miami up six.
Wade (34 points) and James (33 points) combined to score 67 of Miami's 97 points as the Heat were able to overcome the obstacle that was Boston's "Big Three." Emotions ran high as the final buzzer sounded - there was an evident shift of power in the Eastern Conference.
James finished the series averaging 28.0 points, 8.2 rebounds and 3.6 assists per game. After defeating the Bulls in the conference finals, Miami went on to face the Mavericks in the 2011 NBA Finals, losing in six games.
2012 Eastern Conference finals - Heat win 4-3
James: 33.6 points, 11.0 rebounds, 3.9 assists
After a 66-game 2011-12 NBA season, the 46-20 Heat earned the East's No. 2 seed while the 39-win Celtics placed fourth in the conference. James earned his third MVP by averaging 27.9 points, 7.9 rebounds and 6.2 assists per game.
One year removed from finally advancing past the Celtics, it seemed that LeBron and the Heat had figured them out. Without Chris Bosh, Miami won Game 1 by 14 points and overcame a 44-point performance from Rajon Rondo in Game 2 to win by four. As the series shifted to Boston, things changed.
The Celtics took care of their home court with a 10-point win in Game 3 and a two-point overtime win in Game 4. Bosh made his return in the pivotal Game 5, but the Celtics stole the show; Paul Pierce's 3-pointer over James with under a minute to play gave the Celtics a four-point lead the Heat were unable to overcome.
Boston won 94-90 and had an opportunity to close out a LeBron-led team at home just as it had in 2008 and 2010.
The pressure on the Heat was unreal, but James responded in a manner unlike anything anyone had seen before. His 30 first-half points set the tone for the direction of the game. The MVP lived up to his title, finishing with 45 points (on 19-of-26 shooting), 15 rebounds and five assists as the Heat won 98-79.
James delivered once again in Game 7, scoring 31 points and pulling down 12 rebounds to lead Miami to a 101-88 win; he averaged 33.6 points, 11.0 rebounds and 3.9 assists in the series that will always be remembered for his Game 6 performance.
Miami advanced to the 2012 NBA Finals and defeated the Thunder in five games. The 2012 Eastern Conference finals was the last of Boston's "Big Three" era, as Allen joined the Heat as a free agent in the 2012 offseason. Garnett and Pierce were both traded to Brooklyn in the offseason of 2013.
2015 Eastern Conference first round - Cavs win 4-0
James: 27.0 points, 9.0 rebounds, 6.5 assists, 2.3 steals
James rejoined the Cavaliers as a free agent in the offseason of 2014, forming a new "Big Three" with 2012 Rookie of the Year Kyrie Irving and All-Star forward Kevin Love. The new-look Cavs won 53 games to finish second in the East. Boston, ahead of the curve in its rebuilding phase, finished seventh in the East with a 40-42 record.
Boston was led by the outstanding coaching of Brad Stevens and late-season trade acquisition Isaiah Thomas, who averaged 19.0 points and 5.4 assists in 21 regular-season games with the team. Irving, James and Love had become a formidable trio in their first year together, but still experienced their fair share of growing pains.
The Cavs ended up sweeping the Celtics but lost Kevin Love in the process. The All-Star forward suffered a shoulder injury in Game 4 that would sideline him for the remainder of the series. Despite the series sweep, the Celtics' 2015 playoff berth was a big step in placing the team back in the right direction.
James led all scorers in all but one first-round game and averaged 27.0 points, 9.0 rebounds, 6.5 assists and 2.3 steals for the series.
The Cavs went on to make their second NBA Finals appearance in franchise history, losing to the Warriors in six games.
2017 Eastern Conference finals - Cavs win 4-1
James: 29.6 points, 6.8 assists, 6.4 rebounds, 2.2 steals
Two years removed from being swept in the first round of the playoffs by Cleveland, the 53-win Celtics earned the Eastern Conference's No. 1 seed over the Cavs. Boston continued to ride the momentum of its surprising playoff push in 2015 to become one of the East's elite. Still, Cleveland came into the postseason as the defending champion.
In Game 1, James led Cleveland to a 13-point road win with 38 points, nine rebounds and seven assists. Love added 32 points and 12 rebounds, and the Cavs had successfully stolen home court. Cleveland followed its Game 1 performance by putting on a shooting clinic in Game 2, connecting on 19 of its 39 3-point attempts en route to a 130-86 road victory. Boston All-Star guard Isaiah Thomas suffered a hip injury in the game and was forced to sit out the remainder of the series.
Boston used a gutsy comeback to steal Game 3 from the Cavs, but Cleveland would win the next two to advance to the NBA Finals for the third straight season (seventh straight for James).
James scored 35 points in the Cavs' 135-102 closeout win to pass Michael Jordan as the NBA's all-time leading scorer in the postseason. LeBron would finish the series with averages 29.6 points, 6.8 assists, 6.4 rebounds and 2.2 steals per game.
In the Finals, Cleveland fell to Golden State in five games, setting the stage for a wild offseason of moves.
On Aug. 30, 2017, Cleveland traded Irving to the Celtics for a package of assets, including Thomas and the 2018 first-round draft pick Boston acquired from Brooklyn in 2013. The rivalry intensified, as LeBron's former running mate was dealt to his top conference adversary.
The knee procedure that effectively ended Irving's chances to participate in the 2018 postseason certainly takes away from the mystique of the next playoff matchup, but when LeBron and Boston are involved, there is always reason to be intrigued.
2018 Eastern Conference finals - Cavs win 4-3
James: 33.6 points, 9.0 rebounds, 8.4 assists, 1.1 blocks
In a rematch of the 2017 Eastern Conference finals, the No. 2 Celtics again had home court advantage over Cleveland, who finished fourth in the East. The absence of Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving in the postseason caused many to believe Boston would see an early exit in the postseason, but Brad Stevens led his young team beyond many expectations.
The Celtics, who entered the series with a flawless 7-0 postseason record at TD Garden, won Game 1 by a margin of 25 and overcame 42 points from James in Game 2 to beat the Cavs by 13 points. While James and Love were great in Boston, the Cavs supporting cast was lacklustre - James' Finals streak was in danger once again.
As the series shifted back to Cleveland, the Cavs' backs were against the wall; led by James, they responded to the challenge. An efficient Game 3 from the three-time Finals MVP (27 points on 8-of-12 shooting, 12 assists) helped Cleveland dismantle the Celtics by 30 points. LeBron's 44-point performance in Game 4 tied the series at 2-2 as things shifted back to Boston, where the Celtics had yet to lose.
In Game 5, James appeared exhausted but managed to deliver a stat line of 26 points, 10 rebounds and five assists. The lack of energy across the board resulted in another 13-point loss for the Cavs, who faced elimination once again.
When Cleveland needed him most, LeBron answered the call. In Game 6, James finished with 46 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists as the Cavs forced a decisive Game 7 against the up-and-coming Celtics - the third Game 7 between a LeBron-led team and Boston. The Cavs would be without their second All-Star, as Love suffered a concussion early in Game 6.
James delivered in Game 7, scoring 35 points, pulling down 15 rebounds and dishing out nine assists. The four-time league MVP's performance propelled the Cavs to an 87-79 victory and the franchise's fourth-consecutive Finals appearance. LeBron will appear in the NBA Finals for an eighth-consecutive year.
In his first playoff appearance at TD Garden, James was a 23-year-old All-NBA performer in search of his first NBA title, representing the future of the league. Ten years later, James is a four-time MVP set to make his eighth consecutive NBA Finals appearance in search of a fourth NBA title.
In addition to the clear connections between the Celtics and Cavs franchises as a result of the blockbuster trade for Irving last summer, there were a number of other recurring faces in this series. Cavs reserve big man Kendrick Perkins was a member of the 2008 Celtics championship team along with Cavs assistant coach James Posey. Cleveland assistant coach Damon Jones was James' teammate on the 2007-08 Cavs team.
Cavs forward Jeff Green was selected fifth by the Celtics in the 2007 NBA Draft before being packaged in a trade for Ray Allen. Green played a role in the formation of the "Big Three" and later joined the Celtics, taking on James and the Heat in the 2011 playoffs. Cleveland may not have advanced past the Celtics without Green's 19 points in Game 7.
Though Boston was without Irving and Gordon Hayward, the 2018 Eastern Conference finals added a new layer to the ever-growing history between LeBron James, his teams and the Celtics franchise.
Led by veteran Al Horford and the youthful core of Jaylen Brown, Terry Rozier, Marcus Smart and Jayson Tatum, the Celtics represent the future of the league. Since James' breakthrough over the Celtics in 2011, he has been a dominant force in the Eastern Conference - the loss to Boston in 2010 was his last series loss to a conference foe.
If history is any indication, these young Celtics must experience a breakthrough of their own to get past James. The 2018 conference finals showed that although this young Celtics team is close, LeBron's time at the top is not up just yet.
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