Can the Celtics stop James’ Cavs?

For a few days at least, much of the talk about this rematch of the 2017 Eastern Conference finals will focus on what might have been.

In what could have offered some poetic closure to the Eastern Conference portion of this season, former Cleveland Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irving would be taking on his old team and, specifically, LeBron James, the superstar “big brother” whom he’d dissed by demanding a trade.

Meanwhile, in a more perfect pulp-fiction world, Cleveland would be setting loose point guard Isaiah Thomas on the Boston Celtics, giving him a chance for payback to the team that dealt him away the instant it sniffed the chance to land Irving. Those plotlines are kaput, as Irving’s season ended in March with left knee surgery, while Thomas got dealt again from Cleveland at the February trade deadline.

The best we’ll get now are sideline shots of Irving in street clothes on Boston’s bench, reacting to the series’ ebbs and flows.

Thomas might be limited to tweeting from afar.

That leaves one clear, distinct narrative: The King of the East vs. perhaps the best collection of aspirants to his throne.

James is trying to cap one of his most remarkable seasons by advancing to his eighth consecutive Finals, having led the Cavaliers to the past three after four with the Miami Heat.

He has coaxed and carried these Cavs along a steep learning curve, finally getting them spiffed up by the end of their sweep of Toronto.

“He’s been doing this for a long time,” Boston’s Marcus Smart said after the clincher over Philadelphia.

“He’s, if not the greatest, one of the greatest to do it.

“What better way than to go up and compete against a guy that’s [going to have] statues and things like that,” he said.

The Celtics, by contrast, are a team trying to write fresh history. — Nba.com

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