Cavaliers again flirt with historic playoff start

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LeBron James No.23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers reacts in the second half against the Boston Celtics during Game One of the 2017 NBA Eastern Conference Finals at TD Garden on Thursday in Boston, Massachusetts.
AFP PHOTO

NEW YORK: LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers are on the verge of making their second consecutive 10-0 start to the NBA playoffs when they face the Boston Celtics on Friday (Saturday in Manila).

The defending NBA champions ripped the Celtics 117-104 in Wednesday’s start of their best-of-seven Eastern Conference Final series with game two Friday in Boston.

“We did a good job of coming out, throwing the first punch,” said Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue.

Cleveland swept past Indiana and Toronto in the opening rounds and could match last year’s 10-0 playoff start, one shy of the best in NBA history, with another road triumph.

“I have to be in attack mode and just put the pressure on the defense and see what happens,” James said. “The energy and effort and mindset was where it needed to be starting on the road, especially in the Eastern Conference Finals.”

James scored 38 points, grabbed nine rebounds and made seven assists against the Celtics in game one, giving him 35 or more in five consecutive games and at least 30 in seven as he raises his game the nearer he gets to reaching a seventh consecutive NBA Finals.

“He’s playing at a high level right now and that’s the reason why we’re riding him so much,” Lue said. “He’s really setting the tone for us in these playoffs. We’re just kind of riding it.

“When LeBron is playing at this level, other guys just have to be solid and I think we’ve got a good chance of winning the game. Let’s see if we can just keep this up.”

NBA record 11-0 playoff start near
Cleveland could become the first team to make 10-0 playoff starts in consecutive seasons. Golden State is off to a 10-0 start in the Western Conference, the Warriors two games from their third consecutive NBA Finals and a possible third consecutive meeting with the Cavaliers there.

The record NBA playoff start of 11-0 was accomplished twice by the Los Angeles Lakers, in 2001 when they dropped only one game on the way to the title and in 1989 when they reached the final only to be swept by Detroit.

One secret to Cleveland’s success has been to take advantage of the rest during breaks between rounds but practice as if every game is a must-win situation.

“We put in a lot of work,” James said. “We’ve been on the practice court or in the weight room training as if we were playing. There’s no way you can substitute a game. But the work that we put in this week, we just tried to be as up to speed as possible when the game did come.”

Cavs ‘will be better for Friday’
The Celtics rotated defenders on James to no avail, unable to wear him down, and barely able to slow him down.

“It’s not an individual matchup for me, no matter who’s in front of me. My mind is always racing on how I can make this the best possession at that particular time,” James said.

“I know how many guys I’m going to see throughout the course of a game. The only thing on my mind is how we can execute the best way and get a bucket, either if I can get myself a shot or if I can drive, get my shooters a shot, or if I can get a double-team in the paint or get to the free throw line.”

That group effort has allowed guard Kyrie Irving and forward Kevin Love to take their share of the load off James and play swarming support defense against top rival scorers, forcing shots from players unaccustomed to carrying the task of point production.

“We wanted to come in and set the tone and dictate the game and we felt like we did a good job of doing that,” Love said. “We felt like we could have played better and there are some things we’ll look at that will be better for Friday.”

AFP

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