By Matthew Geagan, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) – A magical run for the Boston Celtics has come to an end.
It ends in rather disappointing fashion, too, as the Celtics let a completely winnable Game 7 of the East finals slip away to LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, 87-79, on their home floor.
“It was a pretty incredible run by an incredible group of guys,” Celtics head coach Brad Stevens said after the loss. “An absolute privilege to be around them every day.”
James, who scored 35 points to go with 15 rebounds and nine assists, is now heading to his eighth straight NBA Finals.
The Celtics came out strong for the second straight game and had a 26-18 lead after the first quarter on 11 points by Jayson Tatum. But they went cold in the second quarter, shooting just 6-for-22 in the frame, and led by just four at halftime.
“I thought the biggest moment of the game was when we couldn’t extend the lead in the second quarter,” said Stevens. “We were in really good shape, really good shape — and then we just couldn’t quite extend the lead. I thought that added to probably the shooting the rest of the game. But this group was resilient and tough enough to do it anyway. That’s what I loved about being around them every day.”
The third quarter was even worse for the Celtics, as they scored just 13 points on 5-for-20 shooting. Former Celtic Jeff Green had seven points for the Cavaliers in the third and Cleveland took a three-point lead into the game’s final frame.
Boston still had a chance in the fourth quarter. After Cleveland built a four-point lead on a nice driving banker by James, Tatum brought Boston back with a ferocious dunk over James and a three-pointer on back-to-back possessions, giving the C’s a 72-71 lead. Tatum staring down James after the slam will at least give Celtics fans something to relive this summer.
But Green (who finished with 19 points) answered with a three of his own to put Cleveland back on top by two, and James turned a Marcus Smart missed triple into a driving layup to give the Cavaliers a 76-72 lead with 5:02 remaining. Boston had chances to cut into that lead but struggled to make shots down the stretch. Al Horford missed a three with 3:20 left that could have tied the game at 76.
Boston got a pair of extra looks after Marcus Morris went 1-for-2 at the line, making it a 78-74 game, but Morris and Terry Rozier both missed three-point attempts. Boston shot an abysmal 7-for-39 from downtown for the game, which isn’t going to get it done in a winner-takes-all setting.
A George Hill reverse layup after another Rozier missed triple gave Cleveland a seven-point lead, and a James driving hoop and one (off a Jaylen Brown goaltend) gave Cleveland a 10-point lead with a minute to play.
“We had a tough one tonight,” said Brown. “We held them to 86 points. We just didn’t make enough shots to win.”
The Celtics battled adversity all season but ultimately came up short with the pressure on in Game 7. They played one of their worst games of the seasons, shooting just 29-for-85 (34 percent), which will no doubt leave a sour taste in their mouths this summer. Brown had a terrible game, hitting just five of his 18 shots, and Terry Rozier had just four points on 2-for-14 shooting.
“It’s a tough pill to swallow,” said Rozier, holding back his emotions. “I didn’t make shots. … I just didn’t make shots.”
Losing a Game 7 on their home floor, a game they had plenty of chances to take, and coming up one game short of the NBA Finals is a disappointing end no matter the circumstances. But Boston’s postseason run shows the rest of the NBA that their young stars have arrived, and the sky is the limit for the team next season with both Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving returning from injury.
Until then, basketball fans will get another NBA Finals featuring LeBron James.