The first part of the LeBron-Bulls playoff collision course is set.
LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers disposed of the Boston Celtics on Sunday, sweeping the series with a 101-93 victory in Boston. The series was closer than the four-game sweep would imply, but Cleveland was never in doubt of moving on to the second round. They'll face the winner of the Bucks-Bulls, a series which Chicago can close out Monday night in Game 5.
But the series-clinching victory didn't come without cost for David Blatt's group. Power forward Kevin Love suffered a dislocated shoulder in the first quarter after Boston's Kelly Olynyk grabbed his arm going after a loose ball. He immediately ran to the Cavaliers locker room where the shoulder was popped back into place, but he was ruled out for the remainder of the game and left the arena in a sling. The Cavaliers did not give a timetable for when Love may return, but according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer's Chris Haynes, Love "says his shoulder actually feels better now. Says he hopes he can play Game 1 of (the) second round."
Love was at the center of much scrutiny in his first season with the Cavaliers, often acting as the fall guy for the Cavaliers' early-season struggles. Still, he averaged 16.4 points and 9.7 rebounds in the regular season and had averaged 18.3 points on 47 percent 3-point shooting (9-for-19) in the first three games of the playoffs. His absence would be a crucial blow for Cleveland, with James likely seeing more time at the four and Tristan Thompson being used in a larger role.
Love may be ready for Game 1, but the same can't be said for shooting guard J.R. Smith. The colorful sharpshooter was given a flagrant two and subsequently ejected in the third quarter after swiping at and connecting with Jae Crowder's face on a box out. Earlier in the game reserve center Kendrick Perkins connected with Crowder's throat area on a moving screen and shoved Crowder in the face when the two confronted each other. Both could face suspensions — Smith's seems likely — that would leave Cleveland shorthanded for a potential Game 1 against Chicago.
Iman Shumpert stepped up after Smith's ejection, scoring 15 points and grabbing 10 rebounds in 38 Game 4 minutes.
Shorthanded or not, the Cavaliers pose a real threat to the Bulls' title odds. Half the collision course is set, as LeBron and the Bulls could meet for the fourth time in the last six postseasons. James has won the first three matchups, twice with Miami and once during his first stint in Cleveland.