(Photo Credit: USA Today Sports via Reuters/David Richard)
Only Frank Ramsey, Tom Heinsohn and Bill Russell, all members of the Boston Celtics dynasty during the 1950s and 1960s have made more consecutive NBA Finals appearances than LeBron James, who is looking to make his eighth straight trip to the league's showcase event.
"I haven't reflected on it," James told ESPN on Friday. "But I do know that this is my eighth straight conference finals, and I have an opportunity to play for a championship if I'm able to be successful in this conference finals, so I don't take that for granted."
He has the Cavaliers on the cusp of their fourth Eastern Conference title in a row, and this may be arguably his most impressive postseason to date in his storied career. James enters this contest averaging 34.3 points, 9.4 rebounds, and 9.0 assists while shooting 55.3 percent in 11 playoff games with two triple-doubles and eight double-doubles to go with four 40-point efforts and a pair of buzzer-beaters.
Cleveland (50-32), who finished fourth in the East, followed up their seven-game grinder of a series versus Indiana in the first round by sweeping top-seeded Toronto in the conference semifinals. James totaled 34.0 points, 11.3 assists and 8.3 rebounds against the Raptors, again shooting 55.3 percent, as the Cavaliers averaged 118.5 points while shooting 41.1 percent from 3-point range and 51.6 percent overall.
Boston (55-27) returned to the Eastern Conference final for the second straight year, outlasting the Milwaukee Bucks in seven games before battling past the Philadelphia 76ers in five games in the second round. The Celtics have been spectacular at home in the postseason, winning all seven of their games while averaging 110.1 points and going 4-0 in games decided by five or fewer points.
And they have done it without their top two offseason acquisitions, Gordon Hayward and James' former teammate Kyrie Irving. Hayward was lost for the season after just five minutes into Boston's first game due to a gruesome ankle injury, while Irving, who averaged 24.4 points and 5.1 rebounds, was shut down in late March for season-ending knee surgery.
James and the Cavaliers have eliminated the Celtics twice in the last three postseasons, sweeping them in the first round in 2015 before taking them out in five games in last year's conference finals. That has resulted in a collective chip on Boston's shoulder they are just daring Cleveland to knock off one more time.
"We knew from the beginning we've got each other," Terry Rozier told Masslive.com. "We weren't gonna lay down for nobody no matter who was counting us out. We weren't going to just let the teams come in and punk us. We were the No. 2 seed for a reason. With injuries, without, we were the No. 2 seed, so obviously we were doing something great all season.
"We'd rather y'all count us out. We don't want anybody on our side now. We're doing good and we play better when our back is against the wall."
The best-of-seven series will stay in Boston for Game 2 on Tuesday night.