January 18, 2018
May 25, 2017; Boston, MA, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James (23) attempts a layup against the Boston Celtics during the third quarter of game five of the Eastern conference finals of the NBA Playoffs at the TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

By J.M. Poulard

During the 2007 offseason, Boston Celtics general manager Danny Ainge set off perhaps the biggest arms race in NBA history without noticing the monster he was creating. Ainge acquired Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen via trade in two separate deals to play alongside Paul Pierce.

Those transactions led to the Celtics winning the 2008 title and impacted the next decade of NBA basketball.

Dwyane Wade of the Miami Heat and LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers had run-ins with Boston and…lost. It eventually prompted James to bolt Cleveland to join Wade, with Chris Bosh ditching the Toronto Raptors to also play for Miami.

The Heat built its own Big 3 to topple the Celtics’, and they succeeded in doing so during the 2011 and 2012 playoffs.

Allen eventually defected from Boston and joined the Heat, while Garnett and Pierce accepted trades to the Brooklyn Nets where they formed a strong nucleus to play with Deron Williams and Joe Johnson. Those Nets lost to James’ Heat during the 2014 postseason.

That very same Miami squad was humbled by the San Antonio Spurs in the Finals, which led to LeBron returning home to Cleveland, where he formed a new Big 3 featuring Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love.

Thanks to that trio, the Cavs are now headed to their third consecutive Finals trip after dismantling the Celtics in five games to win the East.

It always comes back to Boston and a Big 3; and Cleveland’s threesome of stars put the hurt on the Celtics in a series-clinching contest Thursday night (final score 135-102) that was over by the end of the first quarter. After the first 12 minutes, Cleveland led 43-27 in a game they never trailed.

Irving, Love and James simply had too much firepower, dominating parts of a game that was never really in doubt.

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Love (10 points) and James (11 points and six assists) took turns inflicting damage against the home team in the first quarter, and then James flew solo for a bit in the second (nine points) until 12-year veteran Deron Williams (14 points) ignited for a throwback performance.

The Cavs rode him until halftime and then gave the keys to Kyrie who did things like this:

Irving dropped 13 third-quarter points on the Celtics in an effort that kept the route going in Boston, and James wanted in on some of the fun. Thus, LeBron added 15 points in the quarter to become the all-time postseason leader in points. He eclipsed Michael Jordan’s scoring record  on this play:

Like much of the series, Cleveland’s Big 3 was overwhelming in Game 5 with its energy, production and winning ways. The trio scored via drives, offensive rebounds, post-ups and 3-point shots.

It’s worth reiterating, their dominance simply could not be stifled despite Boston’s best efforts.

“We still obviously have to keep growing as a group, getting better,” said Al Horford following the contest. “We obviously see the team to get past is Cleveland, and right now we’re not there. We’re not where we need to be.”

Horford couldn’t have been more right in his assessment of the Celtics. Other than Avery Bradley (23 points on 10-for-20 shooting), it’s difficult to find another Boston player that showed up for the decisive contest.

Interestingly enough, though, the Boston defensive ace was torched in this series by Irving. Sure, Kyrie does that to many, but the fact the Celtics could not rely on Bradley’s usual tough defense left them exposed everywhere else on the court.

It’s one of the numerous reasons Cleveland shot 56.5 percent from the floor in Game 5’s blowout win.

The Cavs now move onto the Finals where they will face a heavily favored Golden State Warriors team in a Finals threematch.

Cleveland’s 2016 title forced Golden State to reload and acquire Kevin Durant to form a formidable Big 4 consisting of Durant, Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green.

Golden State earned a Finals berth with an unblemished postseason record (12-0), while Cleveland’s’ lone playoff loss came at the hands of Boston.

Perhaps the Celtics can take solace in that fact, but that’s highly unlikely. The franchise is now at a crossroads with respect to its present and future.

With James now leading his team to seven consecutive Finals trips, there is much to wonder about. Should Boston wait out LeBron’s prime and build through the draft (own this year’s No. 1 overall pick and also gets the Brooklyn Nets’ 2018 first-round pick per Real GM) or use their draft picks and cap space to build a new Big 3?

After all, Boston put the wheels in motion 10 years ago for what the league has become today. It’s Golden State and Cleveland versus the world.

Time will tell if Boston can get in on the action.

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J.M. Poulard

J.M. enjoys all things basketball and spends an inordinate amount of time catching up on NBA games. He’s spent some time writing over at a few ESPN TrueHoop affiliate blogs as well as Bleacher Report.

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