And so just like that, LeBron James emphatically put his foot down, specifically on the throats of the Boston Celtics, more generally on the entire Eastern Conference.
Didn’t think so.
To borrow a phrase from Mark Twain: reports of the Cavs’ demise has been greatly exaggerated. A team in alleged turmoil, the Cavs went into Boston last night in a reported battle for the top seed in the East, and vaporized the Celtics by a 114-91 score in a game not nearly that close. A night earlier, in the same Boston building, Boston Bruins forward Brad Marchand had earned an ejection for taking his stick and lifting it into the sun-free region of a Tampa Bay Lighting opponent, an act that was indisputably the lowest of the low. Last night, LeBron pretty much did the same to the Celtics.
My conference, my league.
Now put your tail between your legs and go away.
“We don’t know what we can be. We just don’t,” James told ESPN after the dismantling. “But we know we played damn good tonight.”
But really, was there ever a doubt?
Let’s be honest. The NBA regular season might as well be the WWE. Entering Wednesday night, people were actually debating whether the Cavs were truly vulnerable, even in the East, where the number of true, championship-caliber teams hovers around … well … one. When the Cavs play their best, when they are even remotely engaged, Cleveland has the best player in the world and a man for whom no one in the league has an answer.
James will be old someday, maybe even someday relatively soon. But so long as if he is capable of being the “madman” that Kyrie Irving described last night — and he is still quite capable — everyone else in the Eastern Conference might as well be from Gonzaga or North Carolina or South Carolina or Oregon.
They just aren’t in the same class, especially the overhyped Celtics, who once again looked like the NBA’s version of the Not-Ready-For-Prime-Time Players.
Does anyone in the East have even a chance to defeat Cleveland? Well, yeah, sure, if Cleveland opens the door a little. With the return of Kyle Lowry and the midseason acquisitions of Serge Ibaka and PJ Tucker, the Toronto Raptors have a shot. Toronto has the size that Cleveland does not, which feels like as good a reason as any to step out on the ledge and pick them against LeBron.
But don’t bet on it.
Here’s what we know for sure: over the last six years — that same period during which no player other than LeBron has appeared in every NBA Finals, as he reminded us on Tuesday — James is 54-13 at home during the playoffs, which translates into a winning percentage of .806. Even more stunning is the fact that LeBron is 45-5 at home against the Eastern Conference, which puts his success rate at an exact, tidy 90 percent.
So there you have it, folks.
The NBA Eastern Conference belongs to Cleveland.
Personally, I’d give everyone else about a 10 percent chance.
Tony Massarotti is an avid Boston sports fan and has covered sports in Boston for more than 15 years for both the Boston Herald and Boston Globe. He now serves as a co-host on afternoon drive on 98.5 The Sports Hub in Boston. He was a two-time Massachusetts Sportswriter of the Year as voted by his peers and has written four books, including “Big Papi,” the New York Times-bestselling memoirs of David Ortiz. You can follow Tony @tonymassarotti.
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