BOSTON (AP) — The NBA Finals has its first “three-match,” courtesy of a King who passed His Airness.
LeBron James scored 35 points and passed Michael Jordan to become the NBA’s all-time playoff scoring leader as the Cleveland Cavaliers beat the Boston Celtics 135-102 on Thursday night to claim their third straight Eastern Conference title and another trip to the NBA Finals to meet the Golden State Warriors.
Kyrie Irving added 24 points and Kevin Love finished with 15 for the Cavs, who never trailed and led by as many as 39 points in one of their most dominating wins of the series. The Cavs set an NBA record by winning their 13th consecutive series closeout opportunity.
Cleveland’s 4-1 series win gives it a 12-1 record this postseason and sets up a third consecutive matchup with Western Conference champion Golden State, the team it beat in the Finals last season to claim the franchise’s first championship.
“I wear the number because of Mike,” James said. “I think I fell in love with the game because of Mike, just because of what he was able to accomplish. When you’re watching Michael Jordan it’s almost like a god. So I didn’t think I could be Mike.”
It will mark the seventh straight trip to the Finals for James, who hit a 3-pointer late in in the third quarter to nudge past Jordan on the playoff scoring list. He quickly flashed one finger as he backpedaled down the court.
In the postgame trophy presentation backstage, James spent most of it lingering in the background as his teammates celebrated.
But there’s no denying that his accolades are putting him in the orbit of Jordan, his boyhood idol.
“The biggest thing is I did it just being me, I don’t have to score the ball to make an impact on the basketball game,” James said. “That was my mindset. If I’m not scoring the ball, how can I still make an impact on the game?”
As much as this series was about James, Irving helped turn the tide of the series with a 42-point effort in Game 4. But he said both he and his teammates continue to be inspired by their leader.
“He’s been the driving force, this entire playoff run, and all of us have just helped us along the way,” Irving said.
Coach Tyronn Lue said they’ve gotten tighter this season.
“This team is a crazy team. They just stayed resilient all year, got to the playoffs, and we really stepped our game up,” he said. “Now we can start focusing on Golden State to get ready. As of tonight, I’ll get started.”