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

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

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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.

Tip-ins
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.

Stephen Curry saw potential in Markelle Fultz as one of his campers

Stephen Curry saw potential in Markelle Fultz as one of his campers

How quickly two years flies by. It was only then that Markelle Fultz attended Steph Curry’s basketball camp in the Bay Area. 

Fultz stood out to Curry, who recognized the teenager’s promising talent. In the time since that camp, Fultz became the No. 1 pick in the 2017 NBA Draft. 

“You knew right away what kind of potential he had in the league,” Curry said to NBC Sports Philadelphia Saturday at shootaround. 

There will be no matchup between teacher and student this season, though. Fultz is out because of a right shoulder injury and will miss the Sixers’ two games against the Warriors, both of which are scheduled in November. 

When the Sixers played in Oakland last weekend, Curry wanted to make sure he still talked to the rookie. Get healthy. Don’t lose confidence. Ignore the outside noise, the two-time championship winner and MVP encouraged. 

“The hardest thing is dealing with people’s expectations and the hype around you,” Curry said. “I don’t even know what it’s like being a No. 1 pick and having to deal with that. That’s part of the learning curve too. Hopefully he’ll be able to keep his confidence through all this.”

Fultz’s rookie year hasn’t started out smoothly. He suffered soreness and scapular muscle imbalance in his right shoulder early into the season. Fultz missed the majority of the preseason and played his first four games off the bench before he was ruled out indefinitely on Oct. 29. At the time the Sixers approximated a re-evaluation three weeks from then, which is Sunday. Fultz was averaging 6.0 points, 2.3 rebounds and 1.8 assists in 19.0 minutes prior to being sidelined. 

Curry, though, saw in Fultz what the Sixers saw when they traded up to acquire the No. 1 pick from the Celtics. The team’s vision was for Fultz to complement Ben Simmons off the ball. As a freshman at Washington, he averaged 23.2 points, 5.7 rebounds and 5.9 assists while leading the Pac-12 and all freshmen in scoring. 

“He’s just a great basketball player,” Curry said. “Obviously he’s quick. He’s athletic, he can shoot, he can play above the rim, he’s got the full package. I’m sure that’ll show as soon as he gets fully healthy and learns the ropes of the NBA.”

Curry can relate to Fultz. He is no stranger to battling injuries himself. Before Curry was dominating the NBA, he underwent ankle procedures and played only 26 games in his third season. He proved there can be a new chapter after being sidelined, one that’s better than the first. 

“Just be patient because this doesn’t define you,” Curry said. “It’s not the ideal way to start, but he’s going to be in good shape if he takes the necessary precautions to get fully 100 percent and understand he has a long career. He’s still young so this will be a distant memory very soon, the injury battle that really a lot of people have to go through, so he’s not alone.”

Curry has high expectations for Fultz in the NBA. He may have to wait another season to compete against him, but Curry will be looking forward to see how the 19-year-old develops and improves until then. 

"It’s kind of cool seeing guys that I got to see before they even got to college show out and do what they do and now get to play against them in the league," Curry said. 

Give and Go: How will Sixers fare on season-long homestand?

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Give and Go: How will Sixers fare on season-long homestand?

Each week, our resident basketball analysts will discuss some of the hottest topics involving the Sixers.

Running the Give and Go are NBC Sports Philadelphia anchor/reporter Marshall Harris, NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com producer/reporter Paul Hudrick and NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com producer/reporter Matt Haughton.

In this edition, we'll look at whether the Sixers can keep their momentum going during their upcoming six-game homestand.

Harris
At first glance, I thought the Sixers were looking at a winning homestand of 4-2. But with the latest injury to Justin Anderson (out at least three weeks with shin splints), the Sixers’ depth chart at guard could severely cripple those hopes. 

While they start Ben Simmons at point guard and JJ Redick at the shooting guard, the bench is left with only T.J. McConnell, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot and rookie Furkan Korkmaz.

It’s hard to believe that guard rotation (or even a fully healthy one) would slow down Golden State. That's likely a loss any way you look at it with the Warriors coming off Thursday's loss to Boston.

The Sixers should handle Utah just as they did in Salt Lake City. But after that, the backcourt of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum will likely be tough to endure.

Orlando should offer a very strong chance at a win. The Magic have cooled off since a 6-2 start. Any team that can lose to the Bulls at home should be beatable by Brett Brown's squad.

The last two games against Cleveland and Washington should be great measuring sticks as top teams in the East. Both the Cavaliers and Wizards have been inconsistent. You'd hope the Sixers would be a little healthier by the last two games on the homestand. It will likely come down to late-game execution and I can see the Sixers earning a split.

So that's a 3-3 homestand from my vantage point with a chance to get a fourth win depending on Joel Embiid's availability. But with six games in 12 days, you have to wonder if "load management" won't play a factor here. So I'll stick with a shorthanded 3-3, accounting for the possibility of a JoJo no-show.

Hudrick
Unfortunately, the homestand will likely start with an L to the Warriors. As Marshall alluded to, the Warriors are coming off a loss on Thursday. That does not bode well for the Sixers.

The team has been playing at such a high level. Here’s the crazy thing though: they went 3-2 on a West Coast trip where JJ Redick and Dario Saric, two extremely important cogs in the Sixers’ lineup, contributed very little. 

Redick will right the ship. He has the track record. Sometimes, you’re just off. If it’s a mechanical issue, you know Redick will get it figured out. Saric’s struggles are likely the result of a role change and fatigue from playing so much basketball. While he doesn’t have the track record of Redick, I expect Saric to bounce back as well. 

Still, the Sixers are up against a gauntlet. After Saturday’s matchup with Golden State, the team hosts the Jazz, Trail Blazers and Magic before wrapping the homestand against the Wizards and Cavs. In my eyes, that’s three very winnable games and three extremely challenging contests. If they go 3-3, there would be nothing to be upset about.

But I think they pull out one of the games against the Wizards or Cavs and they go 4-2 over the next six games at the Wells Fargo Center.

Haughton
This is tricky because it combines how well the Sixers are currently playing with the level of competition set to enter the Wells Fargo Center.

On the Sixers’ end, things couldn’t be much better. The team capped off the five-game road trip with an exclamation mark as Joel Embiid put on a show for the ages against the Clippers and Lakers in Los Angeles. More importantly, the Sixers finished the trip with a 3-2 mark (should have been 4-1 if not for the “rogue” moment in Sacramento). Either way, the Sixers are in a solid position as they return to the Wells Fargo Center for the first time in just over two weeks.

As for the opponents, there aren’t any real slouches on the slate. The only team the Sixers will face below the .500 mark is the Rudy Gobert-less Utah Jazz, who they already took care of on the road.

Things get started with the champion Golden State Warriors, who had won seven straight prior to Thursday’s loss to Boston. The Sixers will also face Damian Lillard, C.J. McCollum and the Portland Trail Blazers before a date with the surprising Orlando Magic. They finish off the home stretch with Eastern Conference heavyweights Cleveland and Washington.

I would say a split would be more than acceptable for the Sixers, but I’ll get a bit greedy and say the young squad feeds off the home crowd’s energy to go 4-2 during the stint with losses only to the Warriors and Cavaliers.