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LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers beat Boston Celtics, set up rematch vs. Golden State Warriors

By
Mike Shalin, The Sports Xchange
Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James reacts after getting fouled. File photo by John G. Mabanglo/EPA
Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James reacts after getting fouled. File photo by John G. Mabanglo/EPA

BOSTON -- The Cleveland Cavaliers were supposed to get there, and they did.

They were supposed to play the Golden State Warriors there, and they will, deciding the league title for a third consecutive year.

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LeBron James and the defending champion Cavaliers are headed back to the NBA Finals.

"We all need to soak this up. This is a great moment, and this is not promised," James said after scoring 35 points and becoming the NBA's all-time leading playoff scorer in a 135-102 blowout of the Boston Celtics in Game 5 on Thursday to clinch the Eastern Conference title.

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James, who was joined on the podium by teammates, pointed out that it is a special moment for Deron Williams and Kyle Korver, two veterans heading for their first Finals.

James, who also had eight rebounds, eight assists, three steals and a blocked shot, then talked about "the beast of an opponent" that is waiting.

Kyrie Irving had 24 points and seven assists and the Cavaliers, who sat their starters for the entire fourth quarter.

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When James takes the court June 1 in Oakland, Calif., he will be appearing in his seventh straight Finals while seeking his fourth title.

The Warriors, who beat Cavs for the 2015 championship before losing the rematch in 2016, are 12-0 in this year's playoffs.

"They've been playing great, but you can't get too far ahead of yourself," Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue said of the Warriors. "You saw that in Game 3 against Boston. ... To be honest, I didn't do one (bit of) prep for Golden State yet because I really believe that this (Boston) team is a good team."

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James, who shot 13 of 18 from the floor and 4 of 7 from 3-point range, hit a 3-pointer with 2:41 left in the third quarter to pass Michael Jordan and move to the top of all playoff scorers.

James finished the night with 5,995 playoff points, topping Jordan's mark of 5,987. Jordan appeared in 179 postseason games; James played his 212th.

Before the game, James said, "It's just a personal goal of mine. It has nothing to do with passing the rings, passing the points, passing MVPs. It's just my personal goal to keep me motivated -- that's all."

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For the third time in as many TD Garden games in the series, the Cavaliers never trailed. They won the three road games in the series by a combined 90 points, the last two by a total of 77.

Kevin Love had 15 points and 11 rebounds and was a game-high plus-43, and Williams added 14 points in 17 minutes off the bench in the win that made Cleveland 12-1 in the postseason.

Avery Bradley led the Celtics with 23 points, and Gerald Green scored 14.

"We're definitely disappointed. I felt like if we weren't, it would be a problem," Bradley said. "We feel like we should be here, and we feel like we should be a championship-contending team."

With 2:44 left, the remaining Boston fans began a "Let's Go Celtics" chant that kept going until the final horn, cheering every basket as if the game were close.

"I leave with a little bit of a bad taste in my mouth not playing as well here, and man you want to play well here," said an emotional Celtics coach Brad Stevens, who earned his first two playoff series wins this year.

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James said he embraced Isaiah Thomas, who sat out the last three games of the series after playing the first two with a hip injury, later paying tribute to Boston's little big man.

"It was a matchup that we were all looking forward to, and I'm glad that we prevailed," Irving said. "But they tested us every single minute, and we needed that."

The Celtics made some noise near the end of the first half, but Irving scored Cleveland's first 11 points in the opening 3:18 of the second half. Two baskets by James ballooned the lead to 25 with 6:39 left in the third quarter. It soon grew to 32 and then to 35 by the end of the quarter.

James scored 15 and Irving 13 in the period, with James hitting three bombs in the final 2:41.

Irving, who shook off a Game 4 twisted ankle, shot 9 of 15 from the floor and 4 of 8 from 3-point range.

"If we have a great game plan and play inspired basketball, we're tough to beat," Love said.

The Cleveland regulars were 16 of 33 from behind the arc through three quarters -- after the Cavs went 19 of 39 on treys in a 44-point win in Game 2. They finished 19 of 41 Thursday.

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The Celtics were 9-9 during a playoff run that capped a successful season.

"It's pretty cool to think that in three weeks you've got the No. 1 pick in the draft," Stevens said.

Added Bradley: "Sky's the limit if we're able to keep the core guys together."

NOTES: Cleveland's 109 points through three quarters marked the most the Celtics have allowed in the shot-clock era. ... Like LeBron James, F James Jones is also going to his seventh straight NBA Finals, all with James. Bill Russell holds the record of appearing in 10 consecutive Finals. ... All three of Boston's walking wounded -- Fs Jae Crowder, Jaylen Brown and Amir Johnson -- were able to play. ... Acting Golden State coach Mike Brown, asked about Cavs coach Tyronn Lue's comment that the Celtics are harder to defend than the Warriors, said, "That's his opinion. It's cute." ... The Cavaliers' 43 points in the first quarter made Cleveland the first playoff team since the 1990 Celtics with three 40-point quarters in the same series. ... The teams observed a moment of silence for the victims of Monday's bombing in Manchester, England.

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