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Then Irving was injured, the Philadelphia 76ers' "Process" proved successful, and the Raptors surged to 59 wins and the best record in the East. On top of that, their easy to use interface and fast cash out options makes them a fan favorite amongst longtime betting veterans.
Boston's win over Philadelphia on Wednesday night brought down the curtain on the postseason's second round - one that wasn't exactly loaded with drama, since it was the first time since 2002 that none of the NBA's four conference semifinal series went past five games.
LeBron went on to describe the Celtics ability to get points out of timeouts, how good they are in late shot clock situations, and their ability to adapt to whatever lineup is on the floor.
Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals is on Sunday at the TD Garden in Boston, MA, and it will be live on ABC and streaming on WatchESPN, starting at 3:30 pm ET.
"Just the history, you look up in the rafters and you see all the greats that has either played there or the previous arena they played in", he said. We're doing the same now. Those selections, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, have propelled them on this most recent improbable run -- which, in case you haven't heard, is happening without Irving and Gordon Hayward. Cleveland slogged along in a malaise for most of the year, falling to just eight games above.500 on February 6. But that was before Marcus Morris entered the equation.
Among the most remarkable elements of their playoff run is that their offense has actually been better in the postseason, scoring an additional 1.7 points per 100 possessions, against the 17th (Bucks) and third-best (76ers) regular season defenses. There's been moments where I've been on a team where there's a decent lead and then they make one shot and the place just erupts. "But I've seen the way that these guys prepare, I've seen the way that they train and they want to be great and they understand that it's bigger than them". We were a different team.
The Celtics doubters have been stubborn.
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The report also confirmed officials missed a travelling violation on Celtics guard Marcus Smart with 1.5 seconds remaining when he intercepted Ben Simmons' desperation full-court pass from the opposite baseline.
Celtics coach Brad Stevens said before the playoffs that he loves seeing "narratives busted". Boston couldn't matchup with James, and the Celtics didn't have the defensive versatility they have this season.
The disrespect has been everywhere, and the Celtics have feasted on it.
Joel Embiid didn't have a bad playoff series by any means. Despite what most people think, Houston had the sixth best defensive efficiency rating in the league this year at 103.8.
Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James (23) moves the ball against Los Angeles Lakers guard Lonzo Ball (2) during the second half at Staples Center. It was a great season and a disappointing series loss to a good team shouldn't change what happened. James is now playing in another stratosphere than any other player in the playoffs.
So far this post-season, LeBron is averaging 34.3 points, 9.4 rebounds and 9 assists per game. Korver, Love and Smith's open looks need to fall, and the Cavaliers bench needs to pick up the slack.
It was anyone's guess which teams in the Eastern Conference would reach the conference final series this season.
This series will be the coaching genius of Stevens versus the basketball genius of LeBron.
It took a superhuman effort, but LeBron James has willed the patchwork Cavaliers into the NBA's Final Four.