CLEVELAND – For 15 years LeBron James has run roughshod through the Eastern Conference, devastating franchises and leaving a growing body count in his wake. The upstart Indiana Pacers fell, the Atlanta Hawks too, while the Toronto Raptors are on the brink of possibly being disassembled. And after dropping 44 points in
Lost in James’ victimization of Indiana — both the Paul George/Roy Hibbert version, and the current one — and his humbling of Toronto, is this: James has owned the Celtics. His Heat team effectively ended Boston’s Big Three era, and James’ Cavs went 8-1 against the Celtics in the previous three postseasons. A young, rising Boston team was broomed out of the playoffs in 2015; a top-seeded one fell in just five games two years later.
Here comes James, effortlessly posting 40-plus-point nights, the villain in Boston’s feel-good story — again. Two games into this series and early-season Celtics matchups with Golden State were being discussed, while reporters groaned at the price of hotels in the Boston area in June. Two games later and James has reclaimed control of the conference finals, threatening to turn the Celtics’ dream season into a nightmare.
The Cavaliers romped to a 30-point win in Game 3, and while a late surge by Boston kept Game 4 relatively close,
“I thought we missed a couple of really good opportunities on offense that were really good shots,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. “Then I thought we did try to hit some home runs on some other shots as we were coming back. Those will catch up with you.”
All season Boston has been defined by its defense, a stingy unit that finished the regular season as the NBA’s most efficient. Yet in this series, the Celtics are reminded: There isn’t a defense James hasn’t seen, a scheme he can’t beat. The Celtics aren’t in a rush to reveal defensive strategy, but whatever it is, James has adapted to it.
“He’s the best in the game at evaluating the court and figuring out what he wants and where he wants it,” Stevens said. “You just have to battle. You have to make it as hard as possible because he’s going to find a matchup that he ultimately wants.”
Against Toronto, C.J. Miles wore the target, with Kyle Korver screens setting up James/Miles one-on-ones. Against Boston, it’s Terry Rozier sporting the bull’s-eye, with James exploiting the Celtics’ switch-happy defense to get the 6-foot-2, 190-pound Rozier on his back. Boston hates to double, willing to live with a contested two if it keeps an opponent’s 3-point shooters in check. James and the Cavs have identified that — and taken advantage of it.
“Instead of having three guys on the opposite side, they always have someone at the basket, so we’re in scramble mode,” Roz