It seems like a good time to look back on May 18, 2008, the day the Cleveland Cavaliers and Boston Celtics faced off in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals. It was a classic duel between LeBron James and Paul Pierce, and the start of playoff rivalry already soaked in a mutual regular season animosity.
It was just six years in the past, but it feels like a lifetime ago. When the Cavs and Celtics faced off in 2008, Boston was in year one of The Big Three Era, having acquired Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen in the offseason on their way to 66 wins in the regular season. For the Cavaliers, even though they were coming off a Finals appearance the year before, they were still considered a notch below the newly-formed Celtics and the Detroit Pistons.
This was a series where the home team won every game, and Game 7 in Boston was no different. But it was also a one-on-one matchup that lived up to the hype. In the deciding game, LeBron finished with 45 points, five rebounds and six assists. Pierce countered with 41 points, four rebounds and five assists, and more importantly, his Celtics got the victory over the Cavs.
After the game, LeBron was gracious in defeat:
“We both tried to will our team to victory and, just like Dominique Wilkins, I ended up on the short end and the Celtics won again. I think the second round of the postseason, Game 7, these fans will finally have an opportunity to forget a little bit about what Larry Bird and Dominique Wilkins did and remember what Paul and LeBron did. This will go down in history.”
The Celtics would win the title that year. LeBron and the Cavs would finish with the best record in the Eastern Conference the next two seasons, but come up short in their bid to return to the Finals both times. Fittingly, Lebron played his final game in a Cavs uniform in Boston, in a Game 6 loss to Pierce and the Celtics in 2010.
That same season, Dwyane Wade‘s Miami Heat also lost to the Celtics earlier in round one. This, of course, led to the formation of Miami’s current Big Three and a changing of the guard in the Eastern Conference. In their first postseason, the Heat would once again face the Celtics in the playoffs, and this time, LeBron and Wade finally conquered them together, winning in five games. The two teams faced off again in 2012 in the Eastern Conference Finals. The Heat fell behind 3-2 but prevailed thanks to an incredible effort from LeBron in Game 6.
Pierce and LeBron faced off again this postseason, this time with Pierce as a member of the Brooklyn Nets. After the Heat clinched the series in Game 5, LeBron was especially “animated” during the post-game celebration.
It might have been just a random burst of emotion, but I’d like to think beating Pierce in the playoffs was still an achievement in LeBron’s mind. Every time these two face off in the real season come spring, it reminds LeBron of the past playoff demons he had to conquer, and how difficult it was to finally get over the hump on his way to two straight titles…and counting.
What’s your favorite Game 7 duel?
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