BOSTON — It’s not every day that someone passes Michael Jordan. It’s not every day that someone goes to his seventh consecutive NBA Finals.
LeBron James is walking history, and he added more chapters to his incredible career Thursday night, leading a final vanquishing of the Boston Celtics as the Cleveland Cavaliers won the Eastern Conference finals with a 135-102 Game 5 victory.
Late in the third quarter, James splashed a 3-pointer from the left wing and spun, holding a finger in the air. The shot put him past Jordan for most points in playoffs history: 5,995 and counting after James concluded another masterpiece with 35 points, 8 rebounds and 8 assists.
“We just came in here with a mindset that we didn’t want to play more games,” James told TNT afterward. “We wanted to get this series over and done with.”
A number of James’ points have come against the legendary Celtics franchise. This time, he walked off the floor to collect his eighth East championship trophy with 979 career playoff points against Boston. No one has scored more points against any team in the playoffs than James has against the Celtics over the last 10 years. He has now ended their postseason four times in the past seven.
James was mobbed by teammates, embracing him and shouting in his ear, in awe of his accomplishment. James doesn’t like to talk about scoring numbers; he never wants to be classified as someone who just scores. He also claims to not worry about history, promising to push it off until he’s watching the sun set on his career.
But his face belied his emotions this time. He was proud and he should be; he could once only dream of being on the same level as Jordan. With each thunderous performance — and this postseason has been full of them as the Cavs, 12-1 in these playoffs, coasted into a rematch with the Golden State Warriors — he draws ever closer to his idol.
More germane to the present, the Cavs officially rebounded from their out-of-character Game 3 loss and their shaky first half in Game 4 with a game of vicious execution and momentum.
They have earned a rubber match with the Warriors, setting up one of the most anticipated NBA Finals in recent memory. Game 1 is next Thursday, and the tension between two giants that have spent most of the past three years eyeing each other will be released.
As the Cavs’ stars did throughout the East finals, they worked together in fire-breathing tandem on Thursday. In Game 4, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love and James combined to produce 103 points (scoring or assisting). They were done by the end of the third quarter in Thursday’s Game 5, but they still scored or assisted on 34 of the team’s 38 baskets while in the game.
Irving did more of his dancing and general trickery, recording 24 points and 7 assists. Love finished off the finest playoff series of his career with 15 points and 11 rebounds. His impact was greater than the numbers, and it showed in his plus-43 in just 28 minutes.
But the Cavs all wanted to take a step back to shove James forward. This night was as much about him as he would allow. Though he moved on from accepting East titles as validation a long time ago, the older he gets, the more he’s learned to appreciate the moment.
This was yet another in a long line of impressive moments.