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Cavs headed to third consecutive NBA Finals as James becomes league playoff scoring leader

Tribune News Service • May 26, 2017 at 12:51 AM

BOSTON — Now the Cavaliers' bodies can go where their minds have been going for months.

Back to Oakland.

Back to the site of their greatest triumph.

Back to the NBA Finals.

With a record-setting first quarter, the Cavs made quick work of the Boston Celtics Thursday night in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals at TD Garden. They extended their string of victories in potential closeout games to a league-record 13 with a 135-102 triumph.

With a 35-point performance, LeBron James made playoff history, passing Michael Jordan to become the league's all-time postseason scoring leader. Coming in James needed 28 points to top Jordan (5,987); James got the record with a 3-pointer from the left side with 2:40 left in the third quarter.

There was no mention on the Garden scoreboard of James' feat. The record-breaker started a string of three consecutive makes beyond the arc by James to close out the quarter, prompting one Celtics fan behind the press seats to plead, "Take him out."

She soon got her wish.

James ran his career postseason point total to 5,995, but fell two rebounds and two assists shy of a triple-double in three quarters of work. James hit 13 of 18 from the field, 4 of 7 from 3-point range and 5 of 8 from the free-throw line.

That wasn't the only notable accomplishment by James this postseason. He has scored 30 or more points in 11 of the Cavs' 13 playoff games and at least 35 points in seven of those. He has totaled at least 30 points, five rebounds and five assists in a league postseason-record 70 games.

But on this night, James wasn't worried about a record, his legacy or whether he'll ever surpass Jordan as the greatest of all time.

What James cared about more was that the Cavs earned the right to defend their NBA title in a third consecutive meeting with the Golden State Warriors. The Finals open at Oracle Arena on June 1. It will mark the franchise's fourth appearance, the first coming in 2009.

It will be the seventh consecutive trip to the Finals for James and James Jones.

The Cavs' Big Three are playing their best at the right time. Kyrie Irving followed up a career-playoff best 42 points in Game 4 with 24 points, two rebounds and seven assists in 24 minutes. Kevin Love, who posted a double-double in every game in the Celtics' series, contributed 15 points, 11 rebounds and three assists.

Backup point guard Deron Williams tied his 2017 playoff high with 14 points in 16 minutes, hitting 5-of-6 field goals, 2-of-3 from long range.

Playing the first quarter at warp speed, the Cavs poured in 43 points, the franchise's best in any quarter of a playoff game, surpassing their 41 at Washington on April 13, 1977. They opened up a 21-point lead at the 2:27 mark.

James, Irving and Love were at their best in the opening 12 minutes. Love scored the Cavs' first eight points and totaled 10 points and five rebounds in the period. James went 5 of 5 from the field for 11 points with six assists. Irving, showing no effects from the sprained left ankle he suffered in the third quarter of Game 4, contributed nine points.

The Cavs shot 64 percent from the field in the first quarter, 55 percent from 3-point range, while the Celtics played like their spirits were broken. They hit only 39 percent and trailed 43-27 at the quarter stop.

Avery Bradley tried to rally the Celtics with 14 points in the second quarter as they cut the Cavs' lead to 75-57 at halftime. Bradley, who led the Celtics with 23 points, was the player Cavs coach Tyronn Lue worked with every day when Lue was a Celtics assistant under Doc Rivers from 2011-13 and director of basketball development before that.

The Cavs opened a 35-point lead in the third quarter and finished the period ahead 109-74, prompting Lue to lift his starters.

With the Warriors resting at home since wrapping up their third playoff sweep on Monday, the Cavs had to be motivated by the possibility of six days off before their next game. That formula worked well for the semifinals, when they swept the Toronto Raptors, and against the Celtics, with their lone loss coming when James scored 11 points, the fourth-lowest total of his playoff career.

James knew what was needed to finish off the Celtics. He said at the morning shootaround that the Cavs had to stick to the game plan against a Celtics team that showed the fight the Cavs expected. But the Celtics started the game without it, and the Cavs pounced.

The Cavs' 13th consecutive victory in potential closeout games since 2009 surpassed 12 by the Los Angeles Lakers from 2000-04, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

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