BOSTON • LeBron James is on the verge of reaching the National Basketball Association (NBA) Finals for an eighth successive season, but his Cleveland Cavaliers face a familiar and formidable force in the Boston Celtics.
The Cavs visit Boston today (tomorrow morning, Singapore time) for the opening game in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference Finals, with the winner to face either regular-season pacesetters Houston Rockets or defending champions Golden State Warriors.
The four-time NBA Most Valuable Player has carried the Cavs on his back at times, averaging 34.3 points, 9.4 rebounds and 9.0 assists in 11 play-off games this post-season.
The forward is also a long-time nemesis of the Celtics, averaging 24.0 points, 10.3 rebounds and 8.3 assists against the Celtics, with Cleveland winning two of their three regular-season meetings.
"At the end of the day, you have to do whatever it takes to win," he said ahead of Game 1 at TD Garden. "It doesn't matter how it happens."
"King James" would share fourth on the all-time list should he reach his eighth straight NBA Finals, two shy of Bill Russell's record run from the 1960s Celtics dynasty team, and Cavs coach Tyronn Lue knows the clutch player he has on his hands.
"Every time we come to the play-offs, he has that edge," Lue said of James. "He's a special player, and we all know that. What he does for us is big."
James is the maestro of a deep corps of role players led by forward Kevin Love, whose aggressive play has been ignited by a scoring spark in the play-offs.
Add guards J.R. Smith and Kyle Korver's three-point shooting as well as forward Tristan Thompson's rebounding, and the Celtics, who boast the NBA's best defensive numbers, will be challenged to shut down James and silence his supporting crew.
"We know where the head of the snake is," said Celtics centre Aron Baynes. "We know what we have to focus on. But he has got a lot of great role players around him and guys who can really create as well."
In Toronto, the axe fell on Dwane Casey as the Raptors fired him on Friday, just two days after his peers named him the NBA's Coach of the Year.
Casey, who spent seven seasons with the Raptors, paid the price for another poor play-off run after Toronto were swept 4-0 in the East semi-finals by the James-inspired Cavs.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS
BOSTON V CLEVELAND
East Finals, Game 1: Singtel TV Ch110, tomorrow, 3.30am