BOSTON — The Boston Celtics have reached the NBA playoffs in each of the last four seasons under head coach Brad Stevens, but in three of those postseason runs they’ve had to go up against the best player in the world: LeBron James.
James and the Cleveland Cavaliers are back at TD Garden for Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals Sunday afternoon.
While playing James often in the postseason might be frustrating for most teams and coaches, Stevens thinks his squad is relishing the opportunity and challenge it presents.
“It’s great. At the end of the day, we’d rather be playing and him be in our path,” Stevens said. “We get a chance to compete against the best player of this generation. That is pretty special.”
It could be easy for the Celtics, especially their young players, to get caught up in the matchup versus James and slowing him down.
James destroyed the Toronto Raptors in the Cavs’ second-round series sweep, but the Celtics cannot focus too much on the four-time MVP.
His teammates came alive in Round 2 after a lackluster Round 1, and they provided the secondary scoring that was absent for a lot of Cleveland’s seven-game first-round series against the Indiana Pacers.
“Our guys look forward to it. We can’t be focused on LeBron versus the Celtics. It’s the Cavs versus the Celtics,” Stevens said.
“The last series proved, (LeBron’s teammates) averaged 84 points per game in that series, the rest of the team. (Kevin) Love is playing great, (Kyle) Korver is playing great, (J.R.) Smith got it rolling, (George) Hill we talked about earlier. You go down the list, and oh by the way, the best player is setting them up. It’s not the Celtics versus him, it’s the Celtics versus them. He’s obviously the engine to it. What a great opportunity. Especially with our guys. It’s something we should only be looking forward to.”
The Celtics are expected to throw multiple players at James defensively. Marcus Morris is getting the start over Aron Baynes in Game 1, and the veteran forward should receive the bulk of the minutes against James to start.
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