It’s hard to believe it’s been six years since the Celtics won three straight games against LeBron James and the Miami Heat to take a 3-2 lead in the Eastern Conference Finals. Paul Pierce buried a dagger in Bron Bron’s face and sent the series back to Boston with a chance to close it out and head to the NBA Finals for the third time in five seasons.
We all know what happened next. LeBron drops 45 at the Garden in game 6 and the C’s run out of gas in game 7 in Miami. LeBron moves on and eventually gets his first ring.
Six years later, the Celtics are “officially” contending for a Finals appearance again. I say officially because they made it the ECF last year but never really stood a chance, especially once Isaiah Thomas went down. Now the Cavs have taken a step back and the Celtics, despite not having Kyrie Irving or Gordon Hayward, are a better team than a year ago.
From 2008-2012, LeBron James had to get through the Celtics if he wanted a shot at an NBA title. He failed twice in Cleveland (’08 & ’10) and succeeded twice in Miami (’11 & ’12), but each time it was a battle.
When Ray Allen left Boston for Miami after 2012 and Pierce and Kevin Garnett were traded to the Brooklyn Nets after 2013, things became easy for LeBron in the East. The Paul George/Lance Stephenson Pacers were able to give him a couple tests during the Heat days, but no team has been able to prevent him from getting to seven straight Finals beginning in 2011.
There are no Celtics remaining on the roster from 2010 team that ran LeBron out of Cleveland, and they have a different coach. But if they’re able to stop LeBron’s path to the Finals, they’ll still be the only franchise to do so in the last eight years. If that’s the case, Danny Ainge will deserve credit for knocking the King off of his throne and making the East fun again for the first time since the break-up of The Big Three that he created in 2007.
With the way they’ve played on the road this postseason, the only way that can happen is if they take Game 5 in Boston on Wednesday night. That means not allowing LeBron to steal one at the Garden and go back home to finish the job like he did in 2012. It’s a similar scenario, so we can only hope that the end result is different. Regardless, it feels good to watch the C’s going toe-to-toe with the best player in the league again with a legitimate chance to end his season.
Follow Jack Bardsley on Twitter @BostonsBigFour