Tomase: LeBron James just hit the Celtics with everything he had and it wasn't enough

John Tomase
May 16, 2018 - 12:51 am
LeBron James

Greg M. Cooper/USA Today Sports

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We've seen this LeBron James before.

The one who takes the floor in hostile territory with his season on the line and swings Thor's hammer. The one who doesn't blink or crack a smile while ripping the hearts out of 18,000 sullen fans. The one who reminds everyone that not only is he the greatest player of this generation, he's one of the most overwhelming forces in the history of professional sports, a juggernaut on par with Jim Brown and Babe Ruth and vintage Tiger.

On Tuesday night, that LeBron James showed up in Boston and delivered what in any other context we'd be calling a game for the ages: 42 points, 10 rebounds, 12 assists.

Here's the only context that matters, however: Celtics 107, Cavaliers 94.

For all of LeBron's greatness -- especially during a 21-point first quarter when it felt like he might top 80 -- the Celtics outscored the Cavs by nine points with King James on the floor.

He hit them with everything he had and they didn't even flinch. Imagine Jake LaMotta taunting Sugar Ray Robinson with, "I never went down, Ray. You never got me down, Ray," without a scratch, instead of bloody and bowed in Raging Bull, and those were your Celtics.

James never got them down. He didn't even come close.

"You've got to tip your cap to LeBron," said Celtics guard Marcus Smart. "He's been doing this for a long time, and if he's not the greatest, he's one of the greatest to do it. We knew coming into this game that he was going to come out and give everything he had and he was going to have a game like this. Our job was just to keep going."

If you're the Cavs, the only thought on the flight back to Cleveland should be, "Now what?" To a man, the Cavs predicted a monster Game 2 from their star. Tristan Thompson went so far as to predict something, "legendary." In a sense he was right, but the legend burnished in this one belongs to the young Celtics, who are rewriting what's possible in a league supposedly predicated entirely on star power.

Head coach Brad Stevens has noted that perhaps there's power in being naïve. Players like Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum and Terry Rozier don't know what they don't know. But Stevens knows better. Whatever they lack in experience, this group compensates for with a toughness, fearlessness and togetherness that's breathtaking.

"I don't think naïve is the right word," Brown said. "I understand what Brad is saying. I agree with him in that sense, but I don't think we're naïve. We're young, but we know exactly who we're playing, we know exactly what's at stake, and we know exactly what's on the other side of that fence. So I don't think naïve is the right word. We're ready, we're prepared, and we're hungry."

No one is supposed to be able to survive LeBron in domination mode, though. He single-handedly carried an inferior Cavs team past the Pacers in the first round by rallying the troops after losses of 18 and 34 points. He single-handedly destroyed the Raptors in a second-round sweep.

Tuesday night marked his fifth 40-point game of this postseason, but the first he had lost. The Celtics have seen this kind of performance before, and it almost never ends well. In 2012, with the C's one win away from a shocking return to the Finals, LeBron stepped on the floor in Boston with the ruthless disposition of the Terminator. Forty-five points and 15 rebounds later, the squads headed back to Miami for the inevitable in Game 7 and the Heat advanced to the Finals.

This performance felt more overwhelming than that one in the opening minutes and it didn't matter. The Celtics didn't panic -- one of their greatest traits -- and after Tatum drilled LeBron in the jaw with an errant shoulder while reaching for a loose ball, James never quite regained his form.

Even if he had, it might not have mattered. The Cavs are a mess. They can't defend, LeBron's playing without a bonafide No. 2 (Kevin Love gives up more than he gets), and the C's feel like a team of destiny.

Whether destiny is enough to overcome Steph, KD, and the Warriors, well even destiny has its limits. So let's just enjoy this while it lasts, because the Celtics don't give in and they can take a punch, even when LeBron James is hell bent on destroying them.

Said Brown: "We don't back down from anybody."

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