BOSTON — “Dread it. Run from it. Destiny arrives all the same. Or should I say, I do.”
These are the words Marvel’s ultimate villain, Thanos, voices to Thor and his brother Loki during the opening scene of “Avengers: Infinity War.” But they just as easily could have come from the NBA’s most dominant force regarding his next victim.
The Boston Celtics punched their ticket to the Eastern Conference finals Wednesday night by beating the Philadelphia 76ers 114-112 in Game 5 of their second-round NBA playoff series.
And now, destiny arrives in the form of LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.
For the second straight season, the Celtics and Cavs will battle with a spot in the NBA Finals on the line and Boston will rely on a number of young players in the series, including Jayson Tatum.
The Celtics’ rookie forward scored 25 points in Boston’s Game 5 victory at TD Garden, but now he must shift his focus to the greatest player on the planet in James.
Tatum, along with Jaylen Brown, Marcus Morris, Marcus Smart, Semi Ojeleye and perhaps even Al Horford will be counted on to guard James at times. But when asked how he plans to try and bother the 33-year-old superstar, Tatum could only shrug.
“This is my first year,” Tatum said when asked how to make James uncomfortable. “I don’t know.”
Boston likely will throw the long, athletic Brown at James to open the series, but Tatum undoubtedly will get his turn against the 14-time All-Star, who the rookie guarded in his NBA debut back in October.
But Tatum has come along way since then.
“It’s like night and day,” Tatum said. “I remember the first time we played them I was so nervous, but you know, there have been 90 games since then and we’ve been through a lot. We’re relaxed and calm but ready to go out there and play.”
While Brown and Tatum might log the most time on King James in the coming series, another Celtic is eager to get his chance at the NBA’s mad titan.
“I do want to guard LeBron. I do,” Smart said after the game. “I’m sure I’ll see some parts of him and I’ll try to do my best to contain him.”
James is having a brilliant postseason run so far, averaging 34.3 points and nine assists per game. James also has created 80 percent of his shots so far this postseason, meaning that 112 of the 140 shots he’s made have been unassisted. It’s the most points James has averaged in the playoffs since he was 24 and he’s doing so on a true shooting percentage of 62.5.
Only Horford and Terry Rozier have played more clutch minutes than James this postseason, and Cleveland has outscored opponents by 31 points in clutch time this postseason.
He dismantled the top-seeded Toronto Raptors in a dominating four-game sweep and has his eight consecutive NBA Finals appearance in his sights.
The Avengers failed in their quest to stop Thanos, and the deck certainly will be stacked against the Celtics in the Eastern Conference finals, which begin Sunday at TD Garden.
Destiny has arrived for Boston.
Best of luck.
Thumbnail photo via Ken Blaze/USA TODAY Sports Images