By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Home court. It’s all anyone can talk about these days — and with good reason. Through five games of the 2018 Eastern Conference finals between the Celtics and the Cavaliers, the home team has gone 5-0. No games have even been close. The average margin of victory has been 18 points. Just one game was decided by single-digits, and even that game was won by nine.
It follows, then, that we all might as well go ahead and clear our schedules for a Game 7 on Sunday night in Boston. After all, what chance do the Celtics have in Game 6 on Friday night in Cleveland, where they’ve been outscored by 39 combined points in two games this series?
The answer to that question depends on how much the current day feels like 2010 to you.
Yes, we’ve got a different president, and we’re a few models further along on the iPhone evolution, and you most likely had never heard the term “millenial” ever uttered back then. But it was 2010 when speculation was running rampant about the basketball future of Cavs superstar LeBron James. Rumor had it, he wanted to leave Cleveland. Certainly, though, he would not have been able to leave his (almost) hometown if he was coming off a trip to the NBA Finals after knocking out the Big Three Celtics in the second round of the playoffs and (likely) buzzing through the Orlando Magic in the conference finals. With the first Cleveland sports championship in a million years so close for LeBron, he couldn’t leave. Not after a LeBron-Kobe finals showdown for the ages. Right?
Well we never found out, because LeBron and the Cavaliers showed up for the decisive Game 6 in Boston, played a competitive first half, got bowled over late in the third quarter and then just kind of faded away in the fourth quarter. LeBron had a pretty weird stat line: 27 points on 8-for-21 shooting (38.1 percent), with 19 rebounds, 10 assists, and nine turnovers), and he famously removed his Cavaliers jersey while exiting the floor.
A couple of months later, LeBron was rising out of a different floor with his new teammates in Miami, promising an avalanche of championships for the Heat.
While LeBron (probably) won’t be bringing his talents to South Beach this upcoming summer, it’s widely expected that he’ll be on the move from Cleveland. Looking at the Cleveland roster as it’s currently constituted, it’s not very difficult to see why.
But the uncertain future of LeBron in Cleveland is not the only parallel to the 2010 series to now — even though all of the participants, aside from James, have changed.
First and foremost, just like in 2018, blowouts were the norm back in 2010. While the home/road situation did not play a factor (the teams split the first four games, each going 1-1 at home), the results in 2018 look a lot like those in the current series.
The teams were tied at two games apiece after Game 4. Here was the margin of victory in those games:
CAVS MARGIN OF VICTORY (Games 1-4)
CELTICS MARGIN OF VICTORY (Games 1-4)
The margin was slightly larger for the 2018 Celtics, but the 2010 Celtics won Game 1 by 18 points and Game 3 by 10 points. Certainly, neither was a close game.
And in both 2010 and in 2018, the “pivotal” Game 5 went to the Celtics. Granted, the 2010 Celtics won Game 5 by a ridiculous 32 points instead of the comparatively meager 13-point victory this year, but prior to that Game 5, any and all pundits and analysts and fans would have said that the series could have gone either way. In 2010, Game 5 swung the balance and Cleveland finally let off the gas pedal before the end of Game 6.
LeBron’s personal performances also seem to follow somewhat of a pattern. Here’s how LeBron’s 2010 and 2018 stats compare in the Cavs’ two losses and two wins in the opening four games of both series:
LEBRON IN FIRST TWO WINS OF SERIES (AVERAGES)
2010: 36.5 points, 7.5 rebounds, 7 assists, 1.5 TOV, +18.5
2018: 35.5 points, 5 rebounds, 7.5 assists, 5 TOV, +20
LEBRON IN FIRST TWO LOSSES OF SERIES (AVERAGES)
2010: 23 points, 8 rebounds, 6 assists, 6 TOV, -13
2018: 28.5 points, 8.5 rebounds, 10.5 assists, 6.5 TOV, -20.5
Game 5 in 2010 was played in Cleveland. Game 5 in 2018 was of course played in Boston. The results were still somewhat comparable.
LEBRON IN GAME 5
2010: 15 points, 6 rebounds, 7 assists, 3 turnovers, -22
2018: 26 points, 10 rebounds, 5 assists, 6 turnovers, -11
James was much better in 2018, as he shot a putrid 3-for-14 from the field in 2010 in what turned out to be his last home game as a member of the Cavaliers for five years. But James was still well below his scoring average in Game 5 this year … and we also saw the introduction of something new.
LeBron James was tired.
From the opening minutes of Wednesday’s Game 5, James appeared to be letting the world know that he is tuckered out. The dreaded F word — fatigue, that is — had set in. And once fatigue sets in? Whoa, boy. You might as well close up shop. There’s no overcoming that, even if you’re arguably the greatest athlete alive.
You may be saying, “But, wait, don’t all athletes get tired at some point?” That’s a fair question, dear reader. But the ESPN broadcast and the resulting breathless coverage of LeBron being out of breath indicated that this was A1 news in the sports world. (Did nobody notice that his tiredness seemed to disappear when he had a good opportunity to score? And wasn’t he not at all tired while dropping 44 points just one game earlier? Was this sudden onset tiredness? Am I taking crazy pills?)
This is actually a callback to 2010, when an elbow injury popped up for LeBron in the playoffs and reared its ugly head in the series against the Celtics. How did we know LeBron had an elbow issue? Why, that’s because LeBron was sure to stare at his elbow any chance he got, as if he may be able to cure the severe ailment by winning a staring contest with his ulna. (He also took a free throw in the first round with his left hand.)
Even though X-rays and MRIs showed no damage, LeBron was still talking about his mysterious elbow injury three years later. (A Cavs assistant coach at the time later questioned whether it was a “mental” injury.)
The other storyline surrounding James indicated that he did not have the supporting cast around him that was capable of winning titles. This was, most certainly true. Outside of James, the Cavaliers’ starting lineup for Game 6 included Anthony Parker, Mo Williams, Antawn Jamison and a 37-year-old Shaquille O’Neal. Unsurprisingly, LeBron led the Cavs in points, rebounds and assists that postseason. He also led the Cavs in steals. And blocks.
His supporting cast was bad. Very bad.
And his coach was Mike Brown.
Eight years later, the same is essentially true. Maybe not to that same extent, as Kevin Love is a five-time All-Star still in his prime, and Kyle Korver has the sixth-best three-point shooting percentage in history. But the remaining cast of George Hill, J.R. Smith, Tristan Thompson, Jeff Green, Larry Nance, Jordan Clarkson and Rodney Hood (when he’s willing to actually play) is probably not even a playoff team in the East.
And their coach is Tyronn Lue.
Put it all together. You’ve got five blowouts in five games. You’ve got a bad Cavs team. You’ve got a potentially phantom ailment. And you’ve got a full expectation from almost everyone in basketball that LeBron is fixing to ditch Cleveland this upcoming summer.
The more you look, the clearer the parallels become. So if you see LeBron with his hands on his hips, keeled over, gasping for air, looking as though he cannot possibly go on even though Game 6 is only four minutes old? You just may be witnessing history repeat itself.