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LeBron James, Kevin Love throttle the Celtics in Game 1; Tristan Thompson provides muscle 05.17.17 at 11:01 pm ET
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May 17, 2017; Boston, MA, USA;  Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James (23) drives against Boston Celtics guard Jaylen Brown (7) during the first quarter in game one of the Eastern conference finals of the NBA Playoffs at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

LeBron James drives against Boston Celtics guard Jaylen Brown during the first quarter in game one of the Eastern conference finals of the NBA Playoffs at TD Garden. (Greg M. Cooper-USA Today Sports)

LeBron James and the Cavaliers were not about add to the Celtics’ fairytale week.

In a display becoming of a defending champion, the Cavaliers, coming off a nine-day hiatus, came to Boston and put a stranglehold on the team that was just 48 hours removed from an electrifying and draining seven-game victory over the Washington Wizards and a day from winning the NBA Draft lottery for the first time in franchise history.

James scored 23 of his 38 points in the first half while Kevin Love added 32 points as the Cavaliers routed the Celtics, 117-104, in Game 1 of the Eastern finals Wednesday night at TD Garden. Jae Crowder and Avery Bradley finished with 21 apiece to lead the Celtics, who will try somehow to regroup for Game 2 Friday night at the Garden before the series shifts to Cleveland for Games 3 and 4 Sunday and Tuesday. 

“With LeBron playing at this level, other guys just have to be solid and contribute,” Cavaliers coach Ty Lue said. 

“He’s better than when I got in the league, a lot better,” Brad Stevens said. “He’s a good player, a great player. I didn’t think he could get any better.”

The Celtics tried many defensive options on James and Love, with little success all night. 

“It’s easier said than done but we have to figure out our best avenue quickly,” Stevens said of the challenge of defending James and Love when they’re on the court together. “Doubling is really scary against these guys but it may be necessary.”

The win was Cleveland’s 12th straight in the postseason, dating back to their comeback against the Warriors in the 2016 Finals. They are a perfect 9-0 in the playoffs while the Warriors are one better at 10-0 this postseason. 

The game started out as the Celtics worst nightmare. 

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Read More: 2017 Eastern Conference finals, 2017 NBA Playoffs, Boston Celtics, Cleveland Cavaliers
Paul Pierce says Celtics should trade No. 1 overall pick 05.17.17 at 9:41 pm ET
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Paul Pierce believes the Celtics should trade the No. 1 pick for a superstar. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

Paul Pierce believes the Celtics should trade the No. 1 pick for a superstar. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

One night after taking credit for the Celtics landing the No. 1 overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, Celtics legend Paul Pierce has already revealed what he believes the club should do with the pick. 

Speaking with ESPN on Wednesday, Pierce clearly believes it’s time for Danny Ainge to make another blockbuster deal. 

“You trade this pick, because [Markelle Fultz] cannot help the Celtics get over the top,” Pierce told The Jump. “The window is now.”

On the Celtics during those lean years where draft lottery eluded the franchise — the ultimate miss coming when the Celtics had the second-best chance at the No. 1 pick but ended up with No. 5 overall during the Kevin Durant/Greg Oden/Al Horford draft back in 2007 — Pierce noted the success of the club in the now, and how they’re just another piece or two away from a return to glory. 

“You’re a 50-win team, you’re the No. 1 seed. You have to build on this momentum,” said Pierce. “If you can acquire a Paul George, Jimmy Butler, or Gordon [Hayward] from Utah, you have to do it.”

Celtics star Al Horford excited for another crack against LeBron James 05.17.17 at 5:35 pm ET
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Al Horford is more than familiar with LeBron James. (Ken Blaze/USA Today Sports)

Al Horford is more than familiar with LeBron James. (Ken Blaze/USA Today Sports)

LeBron James has been the one to eliminate Al Horford from the postseason in three of Horford’s nine career runs. The odds say that James and the Cavaliers will bounce Horford, now with the Celtics, out of contention for a fourth time by the end of the third round, too. 

But the opportunity to punch back is a reason why Horford opted to join the Celtics on a four-year, $113 million contract last July.

“One of the reasons why I signed here was just to be in this position,” Horford said on Tuesday. “I feel like with the group that we have, we can compete with anyone. I wouldn’t necessarily say it was just to beat the Cavs, but it just felt right to be here.”

In 12 career playoff games against James’ Cavs, Horford’s teams are 0-12, with Horford having played in all but one of those games (he missed Game 2 of their 2009 series because of an ankle sprain). It was Cleveland that ended Horford’s final run with the Hawks last spring as well, with a second-round sweep. 

Every team — both Horford’s Hawks and James’ Cavs, of course — were vastly different on a year-to-year basis, and with a different organization entirely this time around, Horford feels that things could be different. 

“I don’t regret anything, ‘cause I felt like yeah they beat me the last couple of years when I was with Atlanta, but with our teams, we felt like we gave them all we had, we just couldn’t get over the hump,” Horford recalled of his Hawks days. “This is a different circumstance for me with this group. I feel like with our group, I’m just excited to have this opportunity with this group of guys.

“[Tuesday] was a good, productive day. We came up with a good game plan we feel like. Looked at the film, getting our rest and just getting ready for [Game 1]. But I feel like we’re in a good place mentally as a group.”

Against a Cleveland team that not enters play as the reigning champs, but also beat them in three of four regular-season meetings and as a group that has yet to lose a game in the postseason, Horford knows the challenge in front of the underdog Celtics. 

“Everybody is always going to roll with the champ until somebody beats them, right?” Horford said. “That’s just the way it is.”

But that doesn’t mean he’s going to shy away from the opportunity in front of his team. 

“I’m excited to be in this position at this point of the year,” he admitted, “I wouldn’t say anxious, but I am excited.”

LeBron James praises Celtics fans: ‘They’re born with pump’ 05.17.17 at 4:58 pm ET
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LeBron James has nothing but love for Celtics fans. (Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports)

LeBron James has nothing but love for Celtics fans. (Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports)

Cavaliers star LeBron James appears to have a lot of respect for Celtics fans. 

When asked to predict the atmosphere inside T.D. Garden when Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals begins Wednesday, James said he thinks it will be raucous –– like it always is. 

“I don’t think Boston fans need any more pumping up,” James said, via ESPN. “They’re born with ‘pump,’ if that makes any sense.”

This will be the sixth time James takes on the Celtics in a playoff series. The last postseason contest he played at T.D. Garden was Game 6 of the 2012 Eastern Conference Finals, when he put up 45 points to lead the Heat to a blowout victory. In the waning moments of the fourth quarter, Celtics fans were heard cheering their team on

There have been a couple of memorable interactions between James and the Garden faithful in recent years. In 2015, he gave his sneakers to a special needs high school student after the fan was honored at halftime. 

Never afraid to talk about social issues, James also spoke kindly of Boston in the aftermath of the Adam Jones incident earlier this month. He said he’s never heard a racist taunt when playing in the city.  

Read More: Boston Celtics, Cleveland Cavaliers, LeBron James,
Chris Mannix on OM&F: Gordon Hayward is Celtics’ guy, could be interested in trading for Jimmy Butler 05.17.17 at 4:03 pm ET
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The Celtics appear to be in on Gordon Hayward. (Kyle Terada/USA Today Sports)

The Celtics appear to be in on Gordon Hayward. (Kyle Terada/USA Today Sports)

The Vertical’s Chris Mannix joined Ordway, Merloni & Fauria on Wednesday to discuss the NBA draft lottery and what the Celtics plan to do this summer. To hear the interview, go to the Ordway, Merloni & Fauria audio on demand page.

Mannix believes the Celtics will take Washington guard Markelle Fultz No. 1 overall, and then target signing Gordon Hayward, who played for Brad Stevens at Butler.

“Well, they can’t just go out there and extend all these offers to everyone that hits the free agent market, but they don’t intend to,” Mannix said. “They’ve got a pretty good idea of what they want to do this summer.

“Gordon Hayward is the guy. That’s who they are going to roll out the red carpet for and see if they can lure him away from Utah. They know the financial situation there. Gordon can make a lot more money staying with the Jazz, but they believe that the lure of Brad Stevens and the appeal of playing in the Eastern Conference and getting far, far away from the Golden State Warriors is going to be a luring to Gordon Hayward.”

Mannix also said the Celtics could be in on trading for the Bulls’ Jimmy Butler if the price has come down since the deadline and extending Isaiah Thomas is not a priority. He will be a free agent after next season.

“I don’t think it is a priority for Boston to extend Isaiah Thomas this summer,” he said. “I really don’t. He wants the money. He wants to be paid in that $20-25 million per season range. He thinks he’s done enough to earn it. He’s right, but I don’t see Boston making that a real priority here. I think their priority is to make a splash in free agency and I think they are going to sit down and sell this to Isaiah. They are going to tell him, ‘We want to pay you. We’re not afraid to pay you. We believe you’re worth $25 million a year, whatever it is that you think you are worth. We just can’t do it right now.’ You have to have cap flexibility to give a guy an extension. There has to be room under your cap to do that.

“Boston wants Hayward. They want to try and go out and trade for a Jimmy Butler if he turns out to be more available than he was at the deadline. I think giving Isaiah an extension is pretty far back on Boston’s list of priorities.”

Read More: Chris Mannix, Gordon Hayward, Isaiah Thomas,
Potential Celtics No. 1 overall pick Markelle Fultz once called out LeBron James 05.17.17 at 3:18 pm ET
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The Celtics seem likely to select Markelle Fultz with the No. 1 overall pick in next month’s draft and he could be the perfect Celtic.

Looking back on the former Washington point guard’s Twitter page, it shows in 2013 he called out LeBron James.

The tweet read: Shut up lebron. It was accompanied with a Vine where he commented on James’ hairline.

“Man, shut up, LeBron,” Fultz said. “You can’t even see your hairline, fool. You’re going bald in the next 24 hours. The next game, you’re going to be bald. Shut up.”

Read More: LeBron James, Markelle Fultz,
Four years later, Celtics reaping biggest benefits of Danny Ainge’s brilliant Garnett-Pierce coup 05.17.17 at 10:16 am ET
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Danny Ainge remade the Celtics in the 2013 offseason.  (Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports)

Danny Ainge remade the Celtics in the 2013 offseason. (Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports)

It all seems silly now, but four years ago, it appeared as if Danny Ainge had repeated Red Auerbach’s mistake and held onto his aging nucleus for too long. A lethargic-looking team was bested by the lowly Knicks in the first round of the playoffs, with Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett laboring up the court in all six excruciating games. 

The Celtics passed the mantle to the Heat the previous season, when Miami ousted them in a thrilling seven-game Eastern Conference Final. Faced with a 3-2 series deficit, LeBron James scored 45 points in Game 6 at T.D. Garden, asserting himself as the dominant force in the conference for years to come. 

But yet, Ainge elected to keep Pierce and Garnett around for one more run. Then Rajon Rondo tore his ACL in January, missing the remainder of the season and destroying the Celtics’ hopes at playoff advancement. 

That offseason, it seemed like it would be a tall task for Ainge to acquire value for his two old and depleted Hall of Famers. But then a Russian oligarch intervened. Desperate to win, Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov surrendered four first-round picks and a boatload of other assets, including a trade exception, for Garnett and Pierce’s services. It may go down as the most lopsided deal in NBA history. 

The Celtics reaped the fruit of the Nets’ haste Monday night, when they won the draft lottery secured the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft for the first time in franchise history. There’s a star-studded crop of prospects on the board this year, including guards Markelle Fultz and Lonzo Ball. While James Young (No. 17 in 2014) is a project and Jaylen Brown (No. 3 in 2016) is a solid rotation player, the Celtics have a chance to bring in a bonafide star. They also own Brooklyn’s first-round pick in 2018. 

What makes this situation so unique, of course, is the fact that the Celtics are in the Eastern Conference Finals. Assuming they keep the selection, they’ll be adding the No. 1 overall pick to a team that’s on the edge of championship contention. 

And the man who’s most responsible for that, Isaiah Thomas, can be tied back to the Garnett-Pierce blockbuster as well. 

The Celtics acquired Thomas from the Suns at the deadline in 2015 for the Cavaliers’ 2016 first-round selection and guard Marcus Thornton. The C’s scooped up that pick and Thornton along with starting center Tyler Zeller two summers ago in a three-team trade with the Cavaliers and Nets. They were able to facilitate the deal by using their aforementioned $10.4 million trade exception. (In the NBA, a trade is only OK’d if the salaries going both ways match up.)

So even before Fultz or Ball even come to Boston, the Celtics can already thank the Nets for helping them acquire a potential franchise cornerstone. And another one may be on the way in 2018. 

It’s the gift that keeps on giving. 

Read More: Boston Celtics, Danny Ainge, Isaiah Thomas, Kevin Garnett
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