Friday, November 14, 2014

A Look at LeBron vs the Celtics

Tonight marks the return of LeBron James at the TD Garden for the first time as a Cleveland Cavalier since May of 2010. In the four seasons since the 'King' decided to take his talents to south beach where he led the Miami Heat to four straight Finals appearances, while winning two titles and a couple of league MVP's, James will go against the Celtics for the first time this season. In his second go-around with the Cavs, James is set to play in a building where Celtics fans have always tried and maybe at times even succeeded in getting the best of him

"Their fans know the game of basketball, they appreciate the game of basketball, and I love a little adversity," James said on Thursday about the Boston fans. "They're one of the best at creating adversity, so it should be fun." [ESPN Boston]

The athlete Boston sports fan loves to hate has had quite the history with the Celtics over 10-plus years. James has played the C's 36 times during his career while averaging 30.1 points, his highest scoring average against any other team. I decided to take a trip down memory lane and reminisce about the good and the bad (depending how you view them) between the two rivals, just for old times.

Here's a look back at some significant games between LeBron and the Celtics since 2003:

11.14.03 - LeBron's first game in Boston: Celtics 91- Cavs 82

In only his ninth game as a pro, James came into what was probably his first taste of a 'hostile environment' in the then, Fleet Center and may have cracked under the pressure. The rookie only scored 10 points on 3-of-12 shooting, collected 5 rebounds and handed out 3 assists in 35 minutes of action. Paul Pierce on the other hand finished with 19 points in 36 minutes while voicing his displeasure to Cleveland's bench (that trash talk could be traced back to a preseason game a month prior). The Cavs started off their long season at 2-7.

12.13.03 - LeBron's first game vs. Boston at home: Celtics 105 - Cavs 98

In a much better outing the second time around in front of his home town fans, LBJ scored 37 points on 10-of-20 from the field. He added 4 assists and 3 rebounds. But once again 'The Truth' spoiled the party with a 41-point, 9 rebound, 6 assist and 4 steal performance of his own. This was considered the first of many head-to-head battles between the two stars they would encounter throughout their careers.

2.15.06 - LeBron vs. Pierce rivalry heats up: Cavs 113 - Celtics 109 (Double OT)

In what was a called an instant classic at the Garden, James and Paul Pierce were going back and forth from the moment the ball tipped-off. 'The Truth' was already having the best year of his career (26.8 PPG) and he wasn't planning on letting LBJ come get a win in his house without a fight. After the smoke cleared; Pierce had put up 50 points on 17-of-36 from the field, while LeBron had recorded a triple-double of his own with 43 points, 12 assists and 11 rebounds. This game would prepare the 'King' for his first of many postseason appearances, as the Cavs would lose in the second round of the playoffs, pushing the then first seeded Detroit Pistons to seven games.

5.18.08 - LeBron's first playoff series vs. Boston: Celtics 97 - Cavs 92 (Game 7 ECS)

The Eastern Conference champion Cavs from the year before forced a game seven in Boston after James scored 32 points two-days prior. Coming into that Sunday afternoon's tip-off, LeBron was only averaging 21.6 points through the first six games, you knew he was due for a big time performance. But once again Pierce and the new 'Big-Three' had bigger plans as it was clear down the stretch of the fourth quarter who wanted the win that much more. 'The Truth' battled his rival once again for a trip to the conference finals for the first time in six years. The box score read James 45 points to Pierce's 41 plus a friendly free-throw bounce in the last seconds that pretty much summed up the Celtics season all the way to their 17th banner.

4.4.10 - An Easter Sunday matinée at the Garden: Celtics 117 - Cavs 113

If you thought a second to last game of a regular season meant anymore than this one, you'd be lying to yourself. Cleveland at 60-16 had wrapped up the league's best record just weeks prior, and the 47-28 Celtics were in a free fall since all-star break and were barely clinging to the fourth seed in the east. So why did this early Sunday match-up mean anything for either team? Both Doc Rivers and Mike Brown could have rested their stars, instead they went to battle as if both coaches knew they would cross paths a month later in the postseason. The end result: all five C's starters finished in double-figures including Rondo scoring 16 points and handing out 14 assists in the win. LeBron led all scorers with 42 points in a down to the wire back and forth.

5.11.10 - LeBron's last game in Cleveland: Celtics 120 - Cavs 88 (Game 5 ECS)

After missing an opportunity to beat Boston in game four to go up 3-1 in the the semifinals, James followed up a 22-point performance two nights before, with a 15-point performance. In what possibly might have been his last game in Cleveland if they didn't force a game seven. The NBA's best team was in trouble of not only losing the series but losing the best player in the league. LBJ had probably the worst game as a Cavalier with a plus/minus rating of -22 in the Cavs worst home lost ever. Shaq led Cleveland with 21 points in what was his last 'dominant' game of his career, while Paul Pierce capped off the evening with a triple-double (21 points, 13 assist and 11 rebounds). Did I mention that Joey Crawford ref'd this game? Yeah...Celtics fans could smell what was the beginning of the end of the Bron-Bron era in Cleveland.

5.13.10 - LeBron's last game as a Cavalier: Celtics 94 - Cavs 85 (Game 6 ECS)

Few realize that James finished his first tenure with the Cavs with a triple-double (27 points on 8-of-21 shots, 19 rebounds and 10 assists). But it was not enough to force a game seven back in Cleveland and the haunting image before the 'Decision' that Cavalier fans would have for the next four years would be LeBron walking off the court and into the the tunnel of the TD Garden while pulling off the Cavs jersey over his head for the last time. The clock had hit double-zero and Rondo (21 points and 12 assists) and the Celtics celebrated another trip the ECF in two-years, which lead to an eventual appearance in the NBA Finals. Cleveland fans were left wondering what was next for their 'King' who was going into free-agency in July. Boston-2 LeBron-0

10.26.10 - LeBron's first official game as a Miami Heat: Celtics 88 - Heat 80

LBJ's first game with the Heat ended just as his last game with the Cavs did, with a loss. With so much hype behind James' 'Decision' to take his talents to south beach, and all of the state of Ohio wanting his blood, it was time to walk the talk as the newest big-three tried to get off to a good start by beating the team that had knocked them out of the playoffs five months prior. But the Causeway Street version of the big-three set the tone early in the first of four regular season meetings between the two. The Eastern Conference champs not only limited Wade and Bosh for a combined 21 points on 7-of-21 from the field, but Rondo stole the show with a 17-assist night. In the end as always Doc shut down all of LeBron's surrounding cast, while he went for 31 points on 10-of-21 shooting. The Heat's big-three would go 9-8 in their first 17 games together.

5.7.11 - LeBron's first playoff game as a Heat in Boston: Celtics 97 - Heat 81 (Game 3 ECS)

The Celtics for the first time had found themselves being down 2-0 in a playoff series since the new 'big-three' era began three years prior. LeBron was looking to shed some of his demons in a building that had haunted him for two of his last three playoff runs. After Rondo literally single-handedly kept his team alive (an arguable play by Wade, forced Rondo to land on his right arm, causing it to dislocate in one of the most gruesome images you'll ever see in sports) after most believed the point guard would not return for the rest of the series, never mind that game. Boston (56% from the field) went on to limit James to just 15 points on 6-of-16 shots in what seemed like deja-vu all over again for the 'King'. Kevin Garnett added a game high 28 points and 18 boards, while Pierce finished with 27 points in the win

5.11.11 - LeBron finally gets the Boston monkey off his back: Heat 97 - Celtics 81 (Game 5 ECS)

Miami was up 3-1 at home, LeBron did not want to return to Garden for a game six, he knew he had to close out his biggest rival and finally get over that hump. 33 points later, James and the Heat celebrated like they had won their first championship. LBJ had defeated the ghost and afterwards told the media; "I just couldn't beat those guys." They would go on to roll past the Bulls in the ECF, but Dallas threw a wrench in their plans, beating Miami in the Finals 4-2. Bron Bron averaged a pedestrian 17.8 points in six games. I think it's fair to say Celtics fans had the last laugh.

6.7.12 - LeBron silences the Garden: Heat 98 - Celtics 79 (Game 6 ECF)

A resurgent Celtics team took advantages of a lockout-shorten season and put together an impressive playoff run. After being down 2-0 to the Heat for the second straight year, Boston would hop on Rondo's back and take the next three games for a 3-2 lead and on the brink of a third Finals appearance in four seasons. LeBron on the other hand had other plans as he became a one-man band scoring 45 point (19-of-26) in 45 minutes. Besides Wade's 17 points, no other Heat player finished with anymore than nine. James' only 'flaw' that night was putting up two-air-balls. But a stunned Garden crowd, could not do nothing more than chant 'Let's go Celtics' once the game was out of reach, they knew the C's had one more shot at dethroning the 'King.' But we all remember how that ended, Boston was sent home packing in game seven and James dominated against Kevin Durant and the OKC Thunder on his way to his first title. I still wonder, had the Celtics pulled it off, would Pat Riley have broken up Miami's big-three? It's a fair question. LeBron-2 Celtics-2

1.27.13 - The return of 'Judas' to the Garden: Celtics 100 - Heat 98 (Double-OT)

Walter Ray had decided to also take his talents to south beach after he claims he saw 'the writings on the wall.' He lost his starting spot and took less money to join LeBron and it was his first game at the TD Garden as the enemy. In a nationally-televised game everyone was waiting to see, Rajon Rondo was a late scratch from the lineup. It was later revealed that the guard had torn his ACL just two days prior and Rondo had no idea. As news began to spread throughout the arena, there was a game still to be played. Despite Doc Rivers having knowledge of the bad news, the Celtic players were unaware as they continued to battled it out with Pierce running as the point-forward. 'The-Truth' recorded a triple-double (17 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists) and Kevin Garnett added 24 points and 11 rebounds in the win. LeBron finished with a game high 34 points, 16 rebounds and 7 assists, while Allen (boo'd each time he touched the ball all afternoon) chipped in 21 points off the bench. It was the Celtics last win against James during the 'big-three' era. With Rondo out for the rest of the season, that afternoon sadly was looked upon as the beginning of the end for Rivers, Pierce and Garnett in Boston.

3.18.13 - The streak continues for Miami: Heat 105 - Celtics 103

Miami came into the Garden winners of 22 consecutive games (23 of their last 24 after their lost to the C's on 1.27.13), looking to not only extend their streak but avenge a Boston loss from two months earlier in the process. Despite the Celtics playing without Rondo and Garnett, Jeff Green would get the start at small forward, and also get the opportunity to match up with LeBron James for a head-to-head for the first time. Boston would go up by nearly 20 in the first half, including Green shooting a perfect 4-for-4 from 3-point range. The forward was on his way to a career night before LeBron decided to go off in the second half as he and Green went back and forth. In the end, James hit a clutch shot to add to his 37 points, 12 assists and 7 rebounds and the Heat extended their streak to 23 straight wins (they would win four more games before the streak ended) While 'Uncle Jeff' led all scorers with 43 points (14-of-21 shooting) 5-for-7 in 3-point attempts, seven rebounds and four blocked shots in the nail-bitting lost. This was officially the last game between the LBJ and the Celtics in the big-three era.

11.9.13 - The miracle in Miami: Celtics 111 - Heat 110

In LeBron's first game against Boston in the post Doc Rivers, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett era, the new looked Celtics (winners of their previous three games) were poised to make a statement at the American Airlines Arena, home of the current NBA champions. The Heat were up six with under a minute to play, before the Celtics cut their led and after a pair of free-throws made by James, Miami was up 110-108 with the ball. After Dwayne Wade was fouled, he missed the first freebie, and tried to intentionally miss the second, hitting nothing but the backboard. With 0.4 left on the clock new coach Brad Stevens drew up a play similar to what Celtics fans had seen for seven years with Doc. On an inbound pass from Gerald Wallace to Green that not even LBJ could stop, 'Uncle Jeff' hit a fading 3-ball for the game winner. James's 25 points and 10 assists were not enough to beat Green's 24 points (5-of-8 from behind the arc) and what turned out to be the NBA's play of the year.

11-years ago today James played in this same building where 17- championship banners hang for the very first time. He now returns as a Cavalier for a second go around with the franchise and the Celtics faithful have another reason to go crazy tonight, being as Kevin Love makes his first appearance since he teased the hub fans last summer with a possible trade to Boston. But regardless of all that, the Garden will be ready and rocking, like always, just ask LeBron how loud they get.

"Oh yeah, you hear them," James said. "They have their own slang and twang. I know, obviously, being a part of that. They've been great. Even in negative times, they've been great. Just to compete in that building, the rivalry that I have with the Big Three when they were there over the years has been cool." [ESPN Boston]

Unlike the movies, these moments over the years can never be scripted or duplicated. That's the main reason why we love sports. The 3-3 Cavs and the 3-4 Celtics get set to do battle tonight in what could possibly be the first of many new classics throughout this season and beyond. These two 'rivals' seem like they'll be tied to one another, no matter what city 'King' James decides to play in next. It's just been that good. I hate to admit it but, we'll definitely miss it when it all comes to an end.

Until then...welcome back to Boston LeBron.

Joel Pavón

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