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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
LeBron James praises Celtics fans: ‘They’re born with pump’ 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,
Four years later, Celtics reaping biggest benefits of Danny Ainge’s brilliant Garnett-Pierce coup 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
Celtics win NBA draft lottery, will choose first overall for first time in the lottery era 05.16.17 at 8:59 pm ET
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Washington guard Markelle Fultz (left) and UCLA counterpart Lonzo Ball (right) are considered the two best prospects in the NBA draft. (Jennifer Buchanan/USA Today Sports)

Washington guard Markelle Fultz (left) and UCLA counterpart Lonzo Ball (right) are considered the two best prospects in the NBA draft. (Jennifer Buchanan/USA Today Sports)

The ping pong balls finally smiled on the Celtics.

Snakebitten in previous trips to the NBA lottery, the Celtics on Tuesday finally cashed in some major luck when they claimed the first overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft on Tuesday night.

This is the first time in the modern draft era that the Celtics have earned the No. 1 pick.

“This is pretty good,” Celtics owner Wyc Grousbeck told ESPN. “It’s a good time to be a Celtics fan.”

The C’s entered Tuesday night’s lottery as the team with the best chance of landing the No. 1 overall pick via their trade with Brooklyn, and they cashed in. The C’s have never moved up in the lottery, but there was no possibility of that this year, since the best they could hope for was remaining steady at No. 1.

The Celtics entered the lottery with a 25 percent chance of picking first and a 46.5 percent chance of choosing in the top two. They could pick no worse than fourth, thanks to a trade that allows them to swap draft positions with the Brooklyn Nets, who finished with the worst record in the NBA.

This is considered a deep draft with no shortage of talented players in the top five or six positions. The consensus No. 1 pick is Washington point guard Markelle Fultz, an explosive 6-foot-4 scorer and floor general with the most complete game in the draft.

Beyond Fultz, there’s UCLA point guard Lonzo Ball, who might be the best pure passer to enter the NBA since Jason Kidd left Cal nearly 25 years ago. Beyond those two are forwards Josh Jackson of Kansas and Jayson Tatum of Duke. (For more on this quintet, click here.) Kentucky guards De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk are also expected to go in the top 10.

What this means for the Celtics is they now know what options they have this summer. One option is to sign a free agent like Utah’s Gordon Hayward to a max contract and then augment that acquisition with a young piece in the draft such as Fultz.

The other is to push their chips to the center of the table and attempt to trade the pick for a player like Chicago’s Jimmy Butler or Indiana’s Paul George, thereby accelerating the rebuilding process.

What’s clear is the C’s have options, and that’s never a bad place to be.

Read More: Boston Celtics, Danny Ainge, Markelle Fultz, NBA Draft
Celtics-Wizards Game 7 draws record TV rating in Boston at 1:12 pm ET
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Isaiah Thomas led the Celtics with 29 points Monday. (Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports)

Isaiah Thomas led the Celtics with 29 points Monday. (Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports)

It looks like Boston is buying into the Celtics. 

According to Turner Sports, Game 7 between the Celtics and Wizards was the highest-rated TNT game ever in Boston, drawing a massive 18.1 number. The contest drew a 5.4 overnight rating for the network, the best for a non-conference finals game since 2012. 

The extraordinary viewership for Monday’s contest is a testament to the drama of the series and the apparent affinity Celtics fans feel for their team. There was a lot of animosity between Boston and Washington, which climaxed when members of the Celtics wore black prior to their Game 6 showdown in Washington –– copying a gimmick the Wizards used in the regular season. Game 7 came down to the wire, too, with the Celtics pulling away after massive fourth quarters from Isaiah Thomas and Kelly Olynyk. 

Though it’s unlikely the Celtics will push the Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Finals, they’ve now won two playoff series for the first time since 2012. With the draft lottery Tuesday, this has a chance to be a banner week for the franchise. People are paying attention. 

Read More: Boston Celtics, Washington Wizards,
After Game 7 thriller, can Celtics give LeBron James, Cavaliers a real run for it? at 12:17 am ET
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Kelly Olynyk channels Larry Bird, scoring 14 of his playoff career-best 26 points in a stunning fourth-quarter display while Isaiah Thomas was his typical brilliant self, scoring 29, as the Celtics put away the Wizards in Game 7. Not much time to savor as LeBron James and the Cavs are up Wednesday in Game 1 of the Eastern finals. Mike Petraglia and Josue Pavon recap an electric night at TD Garden.

Read More: 2017 NBA finals, Boston Celtics, Cleveland Cavaliers, Isaiah Thomas
Kelly Olynyk, Jaylen Brown help Isaiah Thomas, Celtics vanquish Wizards in electric Game 7, move onto LeBron James 05.15.17 at 10:42 pm ET
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May 15, 2017; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas (4) shoots the ball over Washington Wizards guard Bradley Beal (3) during the first half in game seven of the second round of the 2017 NBA Playoffs at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Isaiah Thomas shoots the ball over Washington Wizards guard Bradley Beal in a tense Game 7 at TD Garden Monday night. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

Bring on LeBron.

In a series filled with dramatic swings in momentum and emotion, the Celtics outlasted the Wizards, 115-105, Monday night in a tense Game 7 of their Eastern Conference semifinal series at TD Garden. 

“It was ridiculous, I don’t think this building reached that level, since I’ve been here at least,” Brad Stevens said of the TD Garden crowd. 

“It’s good to be able to validate the progress but it’s about the next game,” Stevens said of reaching the Eastern finals in his fourth season. 

Kelly Olynyk put up a playoff career high of 26 points off the bench – including 14 in an amazing fourth-quarter display – while Isaiah Thomas was his usual electric self with 29 points as the Celtics can now get ready for Game 1 of the Eastern finals against the defending champion Cavaliers Wednesday night in Boston. 

“Kelly was the MVP tonight,” Thomas said. 

“They’re playing better than last year, at least when I watch them,” Stevens said of the Cavaliers. “I think they’re playing better than any of the four times we played them, including the last time when they smashed us.”

The heroics of Olynyk and Thomas offset a playoff career-best 38 points from Bradley Beal in a losing cause. 

The reason the Celtics advanced was simple: They had more in reserve. Specifically, their bench gave them a boost that the Wizards just didn’t enjoy. 

The group of Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart and Kelly Olynyk gave the Celtics the luxury to rest the likes of Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley and Al Horford. 

When when Thomas and Horford were on the court in the fourth quarter, they put away Washington in dramatic fashion. Thomas and Horford dominated. John Wall looked like a superstar entirely out of gas. Wall couldn’t do it all and Washington’s awful bench was his and the team’s ultimate undoing. 

The Celtics’ bench outscored Washington’s reserves, 48-5. 

For the Wizards, their Eastern finals drought continues. They haven’t been to the NBA final four since 1979 when they beat the San Antonio Spurs to advance to the NBA finals against Seattle. The home team won all 11 meetings this season. 

The Celtics advance to the Eastern finals for the first time since 2012, when they also faced LeBron James and fell in a seven-game thriller to the Miami Heat. The Celtics continued their dominance of the Wizards in Boston, beating Washington for the ninth straight time, dating to 2014. 

With an electric Game 7 atmosphere not seen in TD Garden for a Celtics game since beating the 76ers in 2012, the Celtics took advantage of the thunderous crowd. 

Washington missed five of their first six shots while the Celtics hit three of their first six, including a wing three that ignited the crowd and caused Scott Brooks to call his first time out. 

Otto Porter’s put back with seven minutes left ended Boston’s 7-0 run that helped the Celtics to a 10-2 lead. That started a run for the Wizards, which included Amir Johnson picking up his second foul. Another Achilles heel of the Celtics revealed itself in the first seven minutes, as four turnovers led to seven Wizards points. 

(For a complete boxscore, click here.) 

With the game tied at 17, rookie Jaylen Brown came off the bench to spark a 7-0, including a 3-pointer and a pair of free throws. The Wizards again responded with a run that featured Amir Johnson picking up his third foul with a minute left in the opening quarter. The Celtics picked up some momentum when Kelly Olynyk drove to the basket for a layup and was fouled with 5.7 seconds left. Olynyk made the free throw and the Celtics took a 27-23 lead into the second period. 

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Read More: 2017 NBA Playoffs, Avery Bradley, Boston Celtics, Game 7
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