Thursday, June 21, 2018
Sports

Expectations meet

MIAMI — In 2010, Boston ousted Dwyane Wade in the first round and LeBron James in the second round. A year later, Wade and James were teammates and turned the tables, sending the Celtics into the offseason.

Here comes the tiebreaker.

Celtics-Heat, one more time, for a berth in the NBA Finals.

For the fifth time in seven years, it will be Boston or Miami winning the Eastern Conference championship. Game 1 is tonight in Miami, with Heat players saying it almost seemed predestined that they would see the Celtics again, and Boston's perspective being that the team in green is exactly where it expected to be.

"Inevitable. It's the matchup the game of basketball wants," Wade said Sunday. "Obviously, with the Chicago Bulls being out, this is the biggest matchup the Eastern Conference can have. So we accept the challenge and we look forward to the series."

Added Heat coach Erik Spoelstra: "Was there any doubt that it'd be us and Boston?"

Well, maybe a little. Boston weathered a Game 7 against the 76ers Saturday, winning 85-75.

"This is a good time right now," Celtics forward Kevin Garnett said. "This is the cream of the cream. … We definitely didn't like the way we left last year. … Let's get it on."

Miami beat Boston in five games in last year's East semifinals, and the Celtics took three of four games from Miami this season. Both sides cautioned against reading too much into those results.

James said the game changes in the playoffs, even more so as teams get deeper into it. The Celtics know what he wants to do, he knows what the Celtics will try, familiarity born from James having already faced Boston in 18 playoff games — more than any other active player, and more than any club the reigning MVP has squared off with in the postseason.

"I wouldn't have it no other way, personally," James said. "It's really the only team I'm accustomed to playing in the playoffs. No matter where I go, I find a way to play Boston. … We've got a lot of history."

James and the Cleveland Cavaliers lost in seven games to Boston in 2008. In 2010, the Celtics topped the Cavs in six games, one round after easily beating the Heat. Last season, Miami's five-game win was far from easy. This time, the perception of the Celtics is that they're old, tired and weary.

"No. Get out of here with that," Wade said. "… They're all 100 percent to me because when they play the Miami Heat, different ballgame and vice versa."

The Celtics like the short turnaround. "I kind of like it for us," Paul Pierce said. "It keeps us in rhythm. It keeps us playing. We're an older team so we get kind of stiff when we sit around for too long. We like the fact that we're going to go right into it."

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