CLEVELAND -- For the Cleveland Cavaliers to close out the Boston Celtics and win the Eastern Conference Championship for the third straight season tonight, they will have to finish off the best-of-seven series on the road at TD Garden in Boston.
And despite Cleveland’s closing out eight of its last 10 playoff series with road wins, having battled the Celtics in several playoff series throughout his career, Cavaliers small forward LeBron James knows well that closing out a matchup in Boston will be anything but easy.
“The close-out game is always the hardest, and also, you're doing it, and Boston is going to make it even harder,” James said following the Cavaliers’ Game 4 win in Cleveland Tuesday night.
“We have to go in with a bunker mentality that we had in Game 1 and Game 2 to go out and do what we do, but we have to defend. We have to execute offensively. We have to have low turnovers, and we have to try to make them miss because some of those guys play a lot better at home. That's just how the game be played, but we'll play the game and we'll see what happens.”
Although playing in Boston has, at times, been difficult for James during his career, that was not the case in Games 1 and 2 of this year’s Eastern Conference Finals.
In Game 1, James led the Cavaliers to a comfortable 117-104 victory with 38 points, nine rebounds, seven assists and two steals over 42 minutes. James finished the game plus-16, the second-best margin of the game.
It was James’ seventh straight playoff game with at least 30 points. The last time that was accomplished was by Shaquille O’Neal during the 2002-2003 season.
As he did in Game 1, James was the offensive leader in Game 2, as he scored a game-high 30 points with a 12-of-18 shooting performance. James buried four of his six looks from three-point range and went eight for 12 inside the arc.
Additionally, James pulled down four rebounds, handed out seven assists, stole four passes and blocked three shots over 33 minutes. James was a plus-45 in the record-setting 130-86 victory in Boston.
“At the end of the day, you play the game that's in front of you,” James said. “We didn't take care of business in Game 3, they played well. (In Game 4), they played well again, but we were able to play well, especially in the second half, and we defended. If we defend, then we're going to always give ourselves a good chance to win.”
James said playing Boston is unique in the fact that there is a different sense of pride in the players and fans.
Unlike newer teams or organizations with less success in the postseason, the Celtics have been the most prolific playoff team in NBA history. The Celtics have won a record 17 NBA championships, and as such, their home arena is full of banners recognizing successful teams and honoring the greatest players in franchise history.
“They play with a lot of pride,” James said. “Then, you add the green on their back and this is history. This is a franchise that you kind of no matter who’s out on the floor, you have to play for that franchise and play with pride.
“You know they're giving us everything that they have, and we're expecting it, and we want the challenge. It's the postseason. At the end of the day, you just want to win the game. It doesn't matter who you're going against or how you get the job done. You're just trying to figure it out, and I think we did that.”