LeBron James on a mission to conquer, destroy and embarrass
Celtics suffer the worst playoff defeat ever by a top-seeded team
As several of his teammates dressed quickly and bailed, Boston Celtics guard Gerald Green stood in front of his locker and gave a diplomatic response to every question thrown his direction. “We’ve been in this situation before … We have to play harder … I think guys still believe.”
But had he ever — on any level of basketball — been in a situation where his team had a halftime deficit of 41 points?
“No, never,” was Green’s response to The Undefeated, without any hesitation. “But it don’t matter whether you lose by 45 or 100, it’s still a loss.”
The final score in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals: Cleveland 130, Boston 86. The largest margin of victory in Eastern Conference Finals history.
It was nearly a 45-point defeat.
It could have easily — if the Cavaliers had kept their foot on the throttle — been 100.
And it does matter, because these were the Celtics — the franchise that gave us Bill Russell, Larry Bird and some of the greatest teams in NBA history — losing badly to the Cavaliers for the second game in a row.
It was the worst playoff defeat ever suffered by a top-seeded team. The second-worst loss in Celtics playoff history. And the 57-point combined deficit in Games 1 and 2 is the largest in the history of the conference finals.
The Celtics got “Deebo’d,” and it was bad. Mike Tyson annihilating Michael Spinks bad. The Dream Team destroying Angola in the 1992 Olympics bad. Shaquille O’Neal dunking on that diminutive dude in the video that went viral this past week bad.
So bad that UConn women’s basketball coach Geno Auriemma — who leads a team that beats opponents by 50 on the regular — dropped by Brad Stevens’ office after the game and tried to offer some words of comfort to the wounded Celtics coach. “He wasn’t very good in understanding what I was going through,” Stevens said.
What Stevens went through Friday night was the work of LeBron James, who scored 30 points in 32 minutes and has played this series with a mission to conquer, destroy and embarrass.
Maybe James was angry that when the NBA announced its All-NBA team on Thursday, he wasn’t a unanimous pick (James Harden was the only player who received 100 first-team votes — some fool had James on the second team).
Maybe he got caught up in his feelings when the NBA announced the three finalists for the league’s MVP award just before tipoff, and James wasn’t among them?
Maybe it was brought to his attention the comments of Celtics rookie Jaylen Brown, who earlier in the day told a Boston television station that James was just a “regular guy.” Said Brown: “There’s bigger threats in my neighborhood than LeBron James. So I have no fear whatsoever of LeBron.”
Bless Brown’s little heart: Just two years removed from high school, he clearly don’t know what he don’t know. Who knows the level of threats that exist in his hometown of Marietta, Georgia? But it’s not likely Brown faced that on a basketball court.
And not against a player like James.
If the intent of James in Game 1 was to get his layup game on point (his first 10 buckets on Wednesday were within three feet of the basket), Game 2 was to showcase his full arsenal. He hit from long distance (four of six on three-pointers). He distributed the ball (seven assists). And he played solid defense (he had four steals and three blocks, including one incredible chase-down of Avery Bradley in the first half).
The plus/minus differential for James was an astonishing plus-46, the highest of his career.
For what it’s worth, James said he was oblivious to all the slights that came his way the last few days.
“My only job is to try to be the MVP for this team every night, put my teammates and put our franchise in position to be successful and ultimately compete for a championship,” James said. “For me, I know what I bring to the table. This league knows what I bring to the table.”
The Celtics, who trailed by as many as 50 in the game, understand what James is capable of bringing. While Russell Westbrook deserves — in this writer’s mind — to win the regular-season MVP, James has shined brighter than any NBA player in the postseason. In scoring 30 points for the eighth straight game, James is the first player to accomplish that feat in a single postseason since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in 1970.
With James performing at such a high level (he’s on the verge of playing in the NBA Finals for a seventh straight season) and his teammates in perfect lockstep, you wonder if this is the perfect team that will likely face the Golden State Warriors in the Finals for the third straight time.
The Cavaliers appear to be as deep as any team in NBA history, and even Stevens marveled at how guys like Richard Jefferson, Channing Frye, James Jones and Derrick Williams competed during the extended garbage-time minutes of the second half.
“They had a bunch of guys that have been in the league for a long time playing their butts off,” Stevens said. “Those guys were playing the right way up 45 freaking points. Tremendous examples for us to learn from. You play the right way all the time.”
Meanwhile, the Celtics played the second half without their star, Isaiah Thomas, who aggravated a hip injury. Thomas scored two points in 17 minutes and failed to hit a field goal for the first time since missing all five of his shots against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Feb. 7, 2012.
Was the injury to Thomas a factor on Friday?
“Not 44 points’ worth,” Stevens said.
Can — and should — Thomas play in Game 3 on Sunday in Cleveland?
Whether Thomas plays or not, it doesn’t matter. With Thomas the Celtics were the top team in the East. But to be considered the best, you have to beat the best. And the Cavaliers handled the Celtics in three of the four games they played during the regular season. And now they’re dominating them in the playoffs.
The fans at Boston’s TD Garden know the deal. Just before the half, when many usually get up to go to the concessions or the restrooms, many kept going. They up and left, leaving many seats in the arena empty.
Those who remained did show a tremendous amount of respect for their team, repeatedly shouting, “Let’s go Celtics” in the final minute.
Those fans know this series isn’t coming back. They knew that their team is overmatched. They knew they had just witnessed a personal statement from a player, James, who is rewriting history on just who is the GOAT (greatest of all time).
As the second half was still being played, someone rewrote the history of the Boston Massacre on Wikipedia. It read, in part:
LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers didn’t kill anyone Friday night. But they sure stole a lot of hearts, including those of the players wearing the uniforms of one of the most storied basketball franchises of all time.
“It’s just embarrassing,” Bradley said. “We got our a– kicked.”
No need to worry. It all ends on Tuesday.