NBA Playoffs: LeBron James makes history as Cavaliers roll into Finals

NBA Playoffs: LeBron James makes history as Cavaliers roll into Finals


BOSTON -- The NBA Finals has its first "three-match," courtesy of a King who passed His Airness.

LeBron James scored 35 points and passed Michael Jordan to become the NBA's all-time playoff scoring leader as the Cleveland Cavaliers beat the Boston Celtics 135-102 on Thursday night to claim their third straight Eastern Conference title and another trip to the NBA Finals to meet the Golden State Warriors.

Kyrie Irving added 24 points and Kevin Love finished with 15 for the Cavs, who never trailed and led by as many as 39 points in one of their most dominating wins of the series. The Cavs set an NBA record by winning their 13th consecutive series closeout opportunity.

Cleveland's 4-1 series win gives it a 12-1 record this postseason and sets up a third consecutive matchup with Western Conference champion Golden State, the team it beat in the Finals last season to claim the franchise's first championship.

"I wear the number because of Mike," James said. "I think I fell in love with the game because of Mike, just because of what he was able to accomplish. When you're watching Michael Jordan it's almost like a god. So I didn't think I could be Mike."

It will mark the seventh straight trip to the Finals for James, who hit a 3-pointer late in in the third quarter to nudge past Jordan on the playoff scoring list. He quickly flashed one finger as he backpedaled down the court.

In the postgame trophy presentation backstage, James spent most of it lingering in the background as his teammates celebrated.

But there's no denying that his accolades are putting him in the orbit of Jordan, his boyhood idol.

"The biggest thing is I did it just being me, I don't have to score the ball to make an impact on the basketball game," James said. "That was my mindset. If I'm not scoring the ball, how can I still make an impact on the game?"

As much as this series was about James, Irving helped turn the tide of the series with a 42-point effort in Game 4. But he said both he and his teammates continue to be inspired by their leader.

"He's been the driving force, this entire playoff run, and all of us have just helped us along the way," Irving said.

Coach Tyronn Lue said they've gotten tighter this season.

"This team is a crazy team. They just stayed resilient all year, got to the playoffs, and we really stepped our game up," he said. "Now we can start focusing on Golden State to get ready. As of tonight, I'll get started."

Avery Bradley led Boston with 23 points.

The Cavaliers basically conceded the East's top seed to the Celtics at the end of the regular season by opting to rest their starters in advance of the playoffs. But they displayed their superiority over the final two games to wrap up the series.

After allowing the Celtics to seize the early momentum in Game 4, the Cavs barely gave them the chance in Game 5.

Led by its Big Three, Cleveland quickly built a 21-point lead in the first quarter, while getting lots of contributions from their teammates.

Love continued to knock down shots from the outside, Irving sliced his way into the lane to the rim and James got free for several of his one-handed, tomahawk dunks.

It was a very welcomed sight in Irving's case, after he rolled his left ankle in the third quarter of Cleveland's Game 4 win. He showed no signs of lingering issues, though, beating several defenders off the dribble and handing out seven assists.

Meanwhile, J.R. Smith and Kyle Korver helped spread out Boston's defenders by connecting on several wide-open scoring opportunities.

Deron Williams, who had been quiet for most of the series, also got in on the act with a series-best 14 points for Cleveland.

Cavaliers: James has scored 30 or more points in 11 of Cleveland's 13 games this postseason. ... Improved to 36-5 against Eastern Conference opponents in the playoffs since 2015. ... The 43 points Cleveland scored in the first quarter set a team postseason record for a quarter.

Celtics: Never led at home in the series. ... Finished the playoffs having made at least 10 3-pointers in 16 of their 18 games. ... Held a pregame moment of silence for the victims of the Manchester bombing.

Making progress
The Celtics did their best to keep up, but the consistent outside shooting, bench scoring and defense they relied on to stun Cleveland in Game 3 wasn't there Thursday night.

Celtics coach Brad Stevens said though he's disappointed with how the season ended, he's encouraged that no one in Boston's locker room is satisfied just making it to the conference finals.

"I told our guys: `We made a lot of great strides, but this pain is part of the path to what we ultimately want to be,'" he said.

Showing support
Injured Celtics point guard Isaiah Thomas was in attendance Thursday night and gathered with his teammates in a huddle before they took the court for pregame warmups.

The two-time All-Star was sidelined in Game 2 after aggravating a hip injury.

Sixers add another twist in bizarre Markelle Fultz injury saga

Sixers add another twist in bizarre Markelle Fultz injury saga

If Markelle Fultz is going to return this season, the decision to do so starts with him, Brett Brown said Saturday.

“When Markelle Fultz feels like he can go, he really feels good about himself and his health, the shoulder, everything, and the medical people support that," Brown said before the Sixers' win over the Timberwolves. "He knows he’s got a coaching staff and a team that will welcome him in when he says go.”

Then asked if the decision-making process begins with Fultz telling the Sixers he wants to play, Brown replied, “Yes.” 

Fultz has been sidelined since Oct. 23 because of a right shoulder injury. His return has not been ruled out, even with 10 games remaining in the regular season. Brown has said a determination would need to be made “soon,” but a cutoff has not been set.

“We understand the closeness of the end of the season,” Brown said. “Every time we speak, it gets a little bit shrunk. But in relation to an exact date, that hasn’t happened.” 

Fultz has been trying to regain the shot that helped make him the No. 1 pick in the 2017 NBA draft. For those who don’t get to watch Fultz work behind closed doors, his progress has evaluated through videos from practices, shootarounds and pregame warmups. 

“I think he is quite close,” Brown said. “I think when we all watch the video, we’d all probably agree with that.”

If Fultz were to return, the Sixers would have to rework rotations they have been trying to establish for the playoffs. Fultz’s role as a guard is one that would put the ball in his hands, adding another layer to work through to get incorporated into the system. His return before the postseason would create a myriad of question marks on the court with a limited amount of time to answer them. 

Brown is not correlating a possible Fultz return with the Sixers clinching a spot in the playoffs. They would have locked in one of the top-eight seeds Saturday had the Pistons lost to the Bulls, but the Pistons did not.

“It’s not like the playoff berth will trigger a bunch of other things that will make it easier for him to come back," Brown said. "It isn’t that at all … they’re not interconnected.”

Sixers look like a playoff team in win over Timberwolves

Sixers look like a playoff team in win over Timberwolves


The Timberwolves were an anomaly in a recent stretch of sub-.500 opponents for the Sixers — a playoff contender holding their own without Jimmy Butler in the tough Western Conference.

The Sixers took care of business, 120-108, but it wasn’t without a hitch in the final quarter.

The Sixers had a 98-71 lead after three, a big enough gap for Brett Brown to comfortably sit his starters in the fourth. Well, it should have been a big enough lead. The Timberwolves cut that deficit to 10 points, and Brown turned back to Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Robert Covington, Marco Belinelli and Ersan Ilyasova to quiet the Timberwolves’ push.

“For us, we don’t want to go back in,” Simmons said after the game. “We want to see our guys play and finish out the game because we know they’re capable of that. But to see our guys not do that, it’s kind of annoying but we’ve got to get on top of that and everybody has to be ready to play.”

This was a less-than-ideal situation as the Sixers are looking for ways to rest their high-minutes players, particularly Embiid, who had only clocked 22 minutes through three quarters. In total, Embiid and Simmons played less than two minutes apiece in the fourth, but the reserves have to take better control of leads so the starters don’t have to return at all.

"I trust the guys that were on the floor," Embiid said. "We just wanted to make sure we had it locked and that nothing was going to happen. But it was nothing."

The Sixers improved to 42-30. They could have clinched a playoff spot with a Pistons loss to the Bulls, but Detroit won Saturday night, 117-95.

• Simmons needed less than three quarters to record his 10th triple-double of the season: 15 points, 12 rebounds, 13 assists.

• Joel Embiid was having a good time out there on his way to 19 points, six rebounds and three blocks.

• Led by those 13 assists from Simmons, the Sixers dished a total of 33 dimes. Their five-straight games of 30-plus assists are their longest such stretch since December 1981. With assists, turnovers can be just as significant. The Sixers committed 14, equal to the Timberwolves, but gave up only 13 points compared to the Timberwolves’ 22.

• The Eagles continue to show their support for the Sixers: