The last time LeBron James crossed paths with the Celtics in the NBA playoffs, Boston was left both heartbroken and optimistic looking ahead.

Tossing rookie Jayson Tatum and second-year Jaylen Brown into the postseason spotlight against James, an all-time pillar, during the 2018 Eastern Conference finals set the bar. No longer was Boston viewed as the feel-good underdog with minimal expectations. Without then-veteran leaders Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward, the young, little-experienced Celtics took a powerhouse Cavaliers team to a Game 7 when they weren’t supposed to.

It left a bittersweet feeling on the floor. Tatum dunked on James, viciously. Terry Rozier filled TD Garden with “Scary Terry” apparel and Marcus Morris out-dogged Tristan Thompson throughout the series. Yet, although it signaled the end of Cleveland’s run in the conference driver’s seat, Boston still hasn’t reached the mountaintop six years later either.

When James stopped planet Earth from rotating on its axis during ESPN’s airing of “The Decision” in 2010, the Celtics didn’t have a choice. Boston’s Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Ray Allen ‘Big Three’ began regressing. James went full recruiter mode in Miami, and the future looked bleak for the next half-decade-plus for Boston’s chances at Banner 18 — at the time.

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James could exercise his opt-out clause with the Lakers this offseason and depart after bringing Los Angeles a title and ‘Space Jam 2.’ The questions began sparking after James sat courtside during Monday night’s Celtics-Cavaliers Game 4 matchup in Cleveland. However, knowing the 39-year-old can still compete and potentially birth another contender should be enough for Boston to do what it has failed to do in recent years: wake up!

How should James attending Game 4 be interpreted? That’s a toss-up.

“He doesn’t do anything for nothing. He’s always strategic and he knows we were gonna talk about it on this show,” ESPN’s Brian Windhorst said Tuesday on “First Take.” “In fact, one thing about LeBron, LeBron is always on time. The fastest way to upset LeBron is to be late. LeBron was fashionably late so that he could get a big, giant ovation.”

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James has already logged a career 25-16 playoff record against Boston.

Once again, the Celtics don’t have any control over what James intends to do this offseason. James could return to Los Angeles, pursue playing alongside his son and 2024 draft prospect, Bronny James, or even both. Boston, on the flip side, doesn’t have a hand, therefore, it’s critical to get ahead of whatever could go down the East and avoid a repeat of last season’s finish.

The Celtics avoided facing Jimmy Butler in the first round, haven’t faced Jarrett Allen (Cleveland’s leading rebounder) yet in the semifinal round, and played a Donovan Mitchell-less Cavaliers in Game 4. Boston’s lucky clovers have been working this postseason, but it’ll take more than luck to pour confetti and cue duck boats in the coming weeks.

In the fourth quarter of Game 4, it was clear that the Cavaliers were playing under significantly more pressure. The problem was Boston didn’t reflect a team with the awareness to deliver a knock-out blow and runaway without the unnecessary late-game drama. It’s been a staple of the Tatum-Brown Celtics and has amounted to nothing other than repeated disappointment.

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Granted, this season is different. The expectations are different, the results have been different, and the team is significantly different. With that said, the stage is set for Game 5 on Wednesday night.

“Now it’s time to go back and play well in front of our fans and give them something to cheer for,” Tatum told reporters after Game 4, per CLNS Media. “And hopefully try to get a win.”

Featured image via Gary A. Vasquez/USA TODAY Sports Images