Should the Celtics Be Afraid of LeBron?

Before we dive in and clumsily step on the toes of both the Boston and LeBron faithful, there are a couple of things we should unpack:

Why are we even asking this question?

Because LeBron James is a scary guy. He’s probably the scariest in the NBA right now. If you ranked the scariest scenarios in the NBA right now, it might look something like this:

– You, alone, running a fast break with LeBron chasing you down.
-You, alone, backpedaling, trying to defend LeBron with 3 seconds left in the game (Sup, OG).
– You, looking in the mirror, seeing that you’re Tyronn Lue, and knowing that you’ll have to outsmart Brad Stevens
– You, alone, stranded in Harden island.

James Harden is no doubt the league’s Most Valuable Player; the life of the NBA picnic. But if the NBA was a picnic, then LeBron is a swarm of ants swirling around a 6-foot-8, 250-pound hurricane. If the NBA was a holiday, then LeBron is a Viber message from your boss asking for the report that was due yesterday. If the NBA was a… you probably get the point. What a nightmare LeBron is, right?

Against the Toronto Raptors, LeBron basically put on the mask from Scream, grabbed a kitchen knife, and chased the top-seeded team in the East out of playoff contention, and into the hopeless, empty abyss. (He also did this the year before, and the year before that. Meeting LeBron in the playoffs is like Halloween for the Raptors.)

Here’s a snapshot of what he did to Toronto the past two weeks (cue theme from Psycho):

Game 1: 26 pts; 12-30 FG; 11 rebs; 13 assts

Game 2: 43 pts; 19-28 FG; 8 rebs; 14 assts

Game 3: 38 pts; 14-26 FG; 6 rebs; 7 assts

Game 4: 29 pts; 12-19 FG; 8 rebs; 11 assts

After a grueling seven-game series against the Indiana Pacers in the first round, this is how LeBron responded, with a big F*ck You to everyone who’s saying he’s done.

After being down 0-2 against the Celtics, LeBron responded in a similar fashion in a must-win Game 3, dropping 3s like F-bombs to build a big lead in the first half.

Which begs another question: Up 2-1, should the Boston Celtics still be afraid of LeBron James?

Well, yes, they should. Because LeBron has been down before. For six times before, he has been down 0-2. And in those six times when his team lost Games 1 and 2, LeBron bounced back to win the series twice: once against the Detroit Pistons in 2007 and another against the Golden State Warriors in 2016.

There are two LeBron James things that come to mind in these two matchups. First, the epic Game 5 against the Pistons when LeBron scored the Cavs’ final 25 points of regulation, overtime, and double-overtime. He scored 10 straight points for his team, and it was a crazy moment, and the only words you could say were, “Holy shit, I’m witnessing greatness here.” Then, he literally scored another 15 straight. And there were no more words to describe that.

And second, The Block.

So with these things considered, the Celticsshould be afraid of LeBron James. But…no, despite his Game 3 performance, the Celtics don’t seem to be afraid of LeBron James. It’s been a long season, and they’ve seen too much already.

It all started at the very first game of the season, with the new-look Celtics visiting the Cavs in Cleveland. After losing in the Eastern Conference Finals the year before, the Celtics retooled its roster to add two middle fingers in the form of Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward to replace their All-Star pinky, Isaiah Thomas. “That should do it, that’ll take care of the Cavs,” Danny Ainge didn’t say, but must’ve thought in his precious head. Then… boom. Hayward goes down with a gruesome ankle injury just five minutes in.

A resilient Celtics led by Irving then won 16 straight games and stayed afloat in the East. The Celtics-Cavs dream matchup was shaping up, then…boom. Irving goes down with a knee injury.

Hobbling into the playoffs, not a lot expected Boston to go far. “Cavs vs Sixers” was the popular take. But as Boston did all season long, they refused to lay down like gentlemen, refused to say, “See you next year!” Instead, the team with nothing left to lose, the team that’ll get Irving and Hayward next season (is that even fair?), climbed to the top of the tower and rang the bell.

Boston is the type of team that pushes back when they’re fouled flagrantly.

“They’re being physical. They’re gooning the game up, and we have to do the same thing. We have to be tougher mentally and physically,” Lue told reporters after Game 2, a game where Cleveland wasn’t tougher mentally and physically.

But Game 3 was a different story. The Cavs went outside and converted 17 3s, with six Cavs scoring in double figures. Boston must’ve been like, “Oh, LeBron brought his friends with him today.”

When his teammates are clicking, LeBron is a much more potent threat with his passing. He ended up with 12 assists in Game 3.

For Assist No. 9, LeBron did a pick-and-roll action with Tristan Thompson and was trapped by Marcus Morris and Aron Baynes, effectively cornering LeBron into a bad place. But LeBron never picked up his dribble, not once showed signs of being rattled. Instead, he remembered who he is, made quick mathematical computations, shifted the ball behind his back from right to left, then threw a left-handed miracle to Thompson, who was left alone under the basket for the easiest two points you can dream of getting versus the Celtics.

That is scary.

Photos from Getty Images