LeBron James reaches eighth straight NBA Finals as Cavaliers beat Celtics 87-79 in Game 7

Associated Press

With another Game 7 victory at stake, LeBron James would not sit out.

He would not say goodbye to Cleveland again — not yet, anyway.

And he would not be denied an eighth straight trip to the NBA Finals.

The four-time league MVP scored 35 points with 15 rebounds and nine assists on Sunday night, leading the Cleveland Cavaliers to an 87-79 win over the Celtics and eliminating Boston from the Eastern Conference finals in the decisive seventh game.

"He's had a lot of gaudy games," Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue said. "But I just think Game 7, in Boston, all the circumstances that surround Boston, the history behind Boston ... to come here in a hostile environment: (it's) right there."

In the first close game of the series, the lowest-scoring and the first victory for a road team, James played all 48 minutes, scoring 12 of his points in the fourth quarter for his sixth straight Game 7 win.

"Our goal going into the series was to make him exert as much energy as humanly possible and try to be as good as we can on everybody else," Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. "For the most part, I thought we were pretty good at that ... but he still scored 35. It's a joke."

For the would-be free agent, the victory postponed a decision about his future until next month.

Now, the only question is who the Cavaliers will play for a chance at their second title in three years: The Rockets host Game 7 of the Western Conference finals against Golden State on Monday night, and the winner will host the opener of the NBA Finals on Thursday.

Jayson Tatum scored 24 points, Al Horford had 17 and Marcus Morris added 14 points with 12 rebounds for the Celtics, who were looking to return to the NBA Finals for the first time since 2010. They had been a perfect 10-0 at home this postseason.

Tatum had a dunk over James with 6:41 left — staring down the Cavaliers star and bumping him with his chest — then followed it with a 3-pointer that gave the Celtics a 72-71 lead. But that would be Boston's last basket for more than five minutes while Cleveland went on a 15-2 run to put the game away.

James embraced Horford and Tatum after the buzzer, then the Cavaliers donned celebratory hats and T-shirts before shuffling off the court to receive the Eastern Conference championship trophy.

It's not the one they want.

James has been in the finals every year since 2011 — four with Miami, and now four straight with Cleveland.

This might be his weakest supporting cast.

He had to do it without Kevin Love — Cleveland's only other all-star — who sustained a concussion in Game 6 and was replaced in the lineup by Jeff Green. Making his first start since the first-round opener against Indiana, Green scored 19 points and added eight rebounds — the star of James' starless supporting cast.

"We said we want to do this for Kevin," Lue said. "Kevin wanted to play, to be in a Game 7 situation like this in the Eastern Conference Finals, being an All-Star, being our second-best player, and he just wasn't able to go. The guys picked him up, so now he has another chance when we get to the finals to be ready."

The Celtics have had more time to get used to their injuries: Gordon Hayward has been out since the first game of the season, and Kyrie Irving has been sidelined since March. With the rookie Tatum and second-year Jaylen Brown, Boston established itself as the team of the future in the East.

"It was pretty incredible run by an incredible group of guys, and an absolute pleasure and privilege to be around them every day," Stevens said. "We obviously have a good thing going."

But the present still belongs to James.

And, for now, that means Cleveland, too.

ADMIRING HIS WORK

The Celtics led by as many as 12 points in the first half, and they had a 51-47 lead midway through the third quarter when James hit a long 3-pointer and then Green made a 3 of his own. James hit Tristan Thompson for an alley-oop to give Cleveland a 55-51 lead, but then James threw the ball away and sent Terry Rozier off on a fast break.

James tracked the Celtics guard from the far sideline, timing his attack. When Rozier went up for the lay-in, James blocked it off the backboard and right to Green. James did not run back down the court, resting up while Green drew a foul at the other end and made one free throw to give the Cavaliers their biggest lead of the game.

TIP-INS

Cavaliers: Shot just 2 of 17 from 3-point range in the first half, making three of their first 22 shots from long range before James and Green connected on back-to-back attempts midway through the third quarter.

Celtics: Paul Pierce, whose number was retired by the Celtics this season, cheered the team on from courtside. ... Rapper 21 Savage was also at the game. ... Boston was 7 for 39 from 3-point range, with Rozier missing all 10 of his attempts.

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