Stars, studs and duds: Jayson Tatum can't keep up with LeBron James

Stars, studs and duds: Jayson Tatum can't keep up with LeBron James

BOSTON – Here are the Stars, Studs and Duds in the Boston Celtics’ 87-79 Game 7 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers.

STARS

LeBron James: Cleveland had no choice but to get all they could out of LeBron James who played every single minute of Game 7. He finished with another monster game for the Cavs, tallying a near triple-double of 35 points, 15 rebounds and nine assists.

Jayson Tatum: The future looks extremely bright for the Celtics, especially 20-year-old Jayson Tatum. He was far and away Boston’s most impactful player, leading the team with 24 points and 7 rebounds on 9-for-17 shooting.

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STUDS

Jeff Green: Filling in for Kevin Love, the ex-Celtic came up with some timely baskets as part of a 19-point performance.

Al Horford: There were moments when Horford was all that and then some, doing a nice job scoring the ball with 17 points on 7-for-11 shooting, a total that should have been even greater if the Celtics’ perimeter players didn’t go away from him down the stretch.

J.R. Smith: He didn’t exactly play like his alter ego J.R. Swish, but he came up with some much-needed baskets at critical junctures to finish with 12 points which included a trio of 3-pointers.

DUDS

Jaylen Brown: When you talk about missed opportunities in Game 7, Jaylen Brown will be one of the first Celtics that comes to mind. He had 13 points on 5-for-18 shooting with a number of the missed shots being open or lightly contested ones that the Celtics needed him desperately to knock down.

Terry Rozier: The timing could not have been worst for Terry Rozier to turn in arguably his worst game of the postseason, missing 12 of his 14 shot attempts to finish with a measly four points.

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LeBron James powers Cavaliers to NBA Finals past Celtics in Game 7

LeBron James powers Cavaliers to NBA Finals past Celtics in Game 7

BOSTON – LeBron James did it ... again.

The Boston Celtics had home court advantage, and with it a number of opportunities to do what no team has done in nearly a decade which is send LeBron James home without a trip to the NBA Finals. 

Maybe it was their youth; maybe the moment was too big. 

Regardless, Boston had its chances and blew it time and time again in Game 7. 

James, as we've seen so many times, made them pay for it. 

And the Celtics will have all summer to think about it after dropping an 87-79 Game 7 loss to the Cavs who are now on to the NBA Finals where they will face the winner of the Houston/Golden State series that wraps up tomorrow.

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Trailing 59-56 after three quarters of play, the Celtics were looking to do what no team has done in this Eastern Conference finals with Cleveland – take the lead in the fourth quarter. Boston would regain the lead, but like most of their success in Game 7 it didn’t last long as the Cavs made the most of the Celtics’ missed opportunities to escape with the victory. 

James, who played every minute of Game 7, led all players with a near triple-double of 35 points, 15 rebounds and nine assists.

Meanwhile, the Celtics got a strong performance from Jayson Tatum who finished with a team-high 24 points.  Al Horford had a solid night with 17 points on 7-for-12 shooting.

But beyond those two, the rest of the Celtics core players struggled mightily when it came to knocking down shots, contested or wide open.

It brings a disappointing end to a season that has been filled with the Celtics overcoming the loss of key players and injuries to finish with the second-best record in the Eastern Conference and just as important, a blueprint for what will likely be one of the top teams in the East for the next few years.

None of that matters right now in this moment, with the pain of not getting to the NBA Finals still fresh in the minds of Celtics Nation and obviously, the players too.

The first signs of things falling apart for Boston came in the second quarter.

Boston ended the second with a wide open missed 3-pointer by Brown, a play that in many ways symbolized how they closed out the first half with several opportunities to increase their lead.

You had a feeling it would come back and bite them, which it did in the third quarter as Cleveland went on a 15-4 run to lead 56-51.

Following a Boston miss by Marcus Smart, he was able to corral the loose ball and score to make it a one-possession game again, 56-53, with 2:55 to play in the third which led to a time-out by Cavs head coach Tyronn Lue. 

Boston would eventually tie the game up with a trio of free throws, but a 3-pointer by James would prove to be the difference in the quarter which ended with the Cavs ahead 59-56.

With fast starts often dictating the outcome in this series, Boston had to feel pretty good about how things played out in the first few minutes.

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The Celtics opened the game with an 11-4 run led by Tatum scoring seven points during the spurt. Following a Cleveland timeout, the Cavs responded with a 12-4 run of their own to take a 16-15 lead.

It didn’t last long as the Celtics' Marcus Morris, defended by Cleveland’s Kyle Korver, scored on a lay-up to put the Celtics back on top. 

Morris’ basket was part of an 11-2 run by Boston to end the first quarter which ended with the Celtics ahead 26-18.

Boston would push its lead to as many as 12 points (35-23) in the second quarter, only for the Cavs to counter with a 12-2 run following a 3-pointer by J.R. Smith that cut Boston’s lead to 37-35.

The Celtics continued to play with a lead as the half ended with Boston ahead 43-39.

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Celtics-Cavs Game 7 preview: Right at home

Celtics-Cavs Game 7 preview: Right at home

BOSTON –  The plan coming into this season was for the Celtics’ stars to be aligned for greatness that would give them a strong shot at being the last team standing.

But then life and injuries happened, which has forced Boston’s star-studded plans to be scrapped for most of this season and replaced with a star-by-committee approach that few outside the Celtics’ payroll thought would work.

And here they are in a winner-moves-on Game 7 with the LeBron James-led Cleveland Cavaliers with the victor advancing to the NBA Finals.

Boston's journey to this point, without Gordon Hayward for all but five minutes this season and without Kyrie Irving for this entire postseason run, has been an amazing ride, to say the least.

And while there have certainly been some ups and downs along the way, Boston hasn’t made any excuses all year for not having Irving and Hayward, around.

Celtics players will tell you one by one that being without their two best players has not been something that's concerned them in this postseason journey because it’s not something they can control.

And the team’s youth?

That, too, has been a topic of non-discussion most of this season; at least among the players and coaching staff.

“I’m sure we’ve slipped on this, but I’ve tried my best all year to try and not talk about their age,” said coach Brad Stevens, who added that he has been asked about it frequently throughout the course of the season. “It’s not about that. They’re really good basketball players. They’re really committed to each other. We all have a job to do and that’s go out and try to play the best we can. That’s regardless, Game 7, Game 1, a game in November, whatever the case may be...we need to be ready to play. We will be ready to play and our guys are looking forward to it.”

The Celtics' struggles in the playoffs on the road (the loss Friday night dropped them to 1-7; they're undefeated at home at 10-0) in the eyes of some might be because of the team's youth. 

Marcus Smart isn't trying to hear that narrative.

"It's not because we're young," Smart said. "It's the playoffs and everything is harder."

The challenge becomes even greater when there's no one player they can turn to in close games to seal victories. 

Jayson Tatum has had his moments, as well as Jaylen Brown, Terry Rozier, Al Horford and Marcus Morris.

Still, it’s worth pointing out that as impressive as it has been to see them find ways to win, Game 6 served as a reminder of how daunting a task it becomes to close out a series when you don’t have a proven, battle-tested closer healthy enough to play.

Because of the points-by-committee setup, you never know who is going to get that opportunity to be the closer or, at a minimum, the guy who throws the late-game dagger to either position Boston to win or puts tremendous pressure on the opponent.

Brown acknowledged after Game 6 that he was positioned to be that guy and took the shot that would have cut Cleveland’s lead to just four with about four minutes to play.

But he missed the shot and with it went Boston’s chances of rallying for the victory – something they did better than any team in the NBA this season when facing double-digit deficits.

“That’s two games in a row on the road I missed that same shot,” said Brown, who still managed to score 27 points. “That’s going to really bug me. Yeah, it felt good. I have to make that.”

Tatum feels the same way about some of his misses.

Ditto for Rozier, Horford and Morris.

And there lies both the blessing and burden of having a team with lots of good players, but void of a definitive late-game closer.

The Cavaliers have one in LeBron James, a role he will embrace even more now that the Cavs have ruled Kevin Love (concussion protocol) out for tomorrow night’s game.

At this point, the Celtics aren’t overly concerned with who they have to turn to down the stretch.

Find a way to win.

That’s the only thing that matters now.

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