Boston Celtics

By Sean Sylver, 98.5 The Sports Hub

I haven’t played Fortnite. This might make me sound positively ancient, but I haven’t played a new video game in quite some time.

OK, once in a while, my brother kills me in the latest version of NBA 2K. But my video game appetite is stuck in the ’80s and early ’90s. Those classic side-scrollers featuring a boss – monster, robot, monster-inside-of-a-robot – at the end of each stage. The bosses become progressively more difficult to defeat as you move through the game until you find your pixelated self face-to-face with the main bad guy. The one your friends say can’t be beat.

Like the conquering 8-bit hero of old, the Boston Celtics keep knocking off bosses.

Round one brought Giannis Antetokounmpo, who posted a frightening line of 25.7 points (on laser-precise 57 percent shooting), 9.6 rebounds, and 6.3 assists. Somehow, the Celtics survived despite having just one bar of life remaining, beating the Milwaukee Bucks in a decisive Game 7.

The Celtics encountered a unique boss tandem in the second round against the Philadelphia 76ers. They isolated one of them (Ben Simmons) along the perimeter, limiting his effectiveness and leaving the 7-foot Joel Embiid to inflict damage from close range. His face shielded by an impenetrable mask, Embiid hurled 23 points and 14 rebounds per game at the Celtics.

But the giant possessed a fatal flaw. After everyone spent the entire “Process” telling Embiid how special he was, the ascendant Julia Roberts of the NBA fell in love with his jump shot, leading him to clang away at a 44 percent clip for the series. With his attack neutralized amidst the Celtics’ frantic energy, the big man stormed off the court when he realized he’d be leaving without even a participation trophy.

And so we’ve arrived at an Eastern Conference Finals rematch everybody expected seven months ago, with a road map straight out of Super Mario Kart.

Feb 11, 2018, Boston, MA, USA: Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James passes over Boston Celtics forward Daniel Theis during the second quarter at TD Garden. (Photo Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports)

LeBron James is the Celtics’ final boss. Well, the final boss is really the four-headed Golden State monster that will likely represent the Western Conference in the Finals. Technically, “Final Boss” is already the nickname (and an excellent one) for a Toronto Blue Jays relief pitcher. But even if LeBron is Super Macho Man to the West’s Mike Tyson, he still presents a formidable challenge.

Meanwhile, in a league where you need a dominant boss to get anywhere, Boston is the first team in NBA history to make the Conference Finals without a single appearance from their leading scorer.

Only nine of the 27 players involved in the series 12 months ago are set to suit up this time around. Last year, Kyrie Irving poured in 26 points per game on over 60 percent shooting for Cleveland. This year, he’ll ride the Boston bench with a bum knee.

Questions abound. Kevin Love thoroughly outplayed Al Horford a year ago -will the big man’s recent assertive streak carry over to this series? J.R. Smith and Kyle Korver were bit players in last year’s conference finals, taking a combined nine shots per game. They will be needed for more. Will Tristan Thompson be an asset for the Cavs, or will the Celtics render him ineffective?

LeBron is also just three months removed from trading away half of the Cavs’ roster at the deadline – what can we expect from Jordan Clarkson or George Hill, much less Rodney Hood? Can any one of them contain Terry Rozier?

Will Jayson Tatum show up, or be bottled up by his childhood hero? Is Jaylen Brown fully healthy? Can Marcus Smart hit on more than 32 percent of his shot attempts, as he did last May? Will Marcus Morris or even Greg Monroe be factors off the bench?

BOSTON, MA - FEBRUARY 11: LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers drives to the basket past Marcus Morris of the Boston Celtics during the first quarter of a game at TD Garden on February 11, 2018 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)

BOSTON, MA – FEBRUARY 11: LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers drives to the basket past Marcus Morris of the Boston Celtics during the first quarter of a game at TD Garden on February 11, 2018 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)

Year-to-year, LeBron’s supporting cast doesn’t seem to matter. He’s played in the NBA Finals for seven straight seasons, and James’ teams (Heat and Cavs) are 16-5 against the Celtics in the playoffs over that time. He demolished last year’s top-seeded edition, shooting close to 60 percent from the field. He just finished pulverizing this year’s top seeded Raptors to the tune of 34 points, 11.3 assists and 8.3 rebounds on 55 percent shooting in a four-game sweep.

NBA Coach of the Year Dwayne Casey mused the other day that, eventually, LeBron will fall. It just hasn’t happened yet. Casey lost his job Friday. James has exhausted the extra lives of numerous Eastern Conference opponents over the last decade-plus. For Casey, it was “Game Over.”

Brad Stevens and the Celtics aren’t on the verge of becoming the Raptors. Even if they get swept, their injury-riddled campaign will still be viewed as a success. But another chance to beat the final boss is at their fingertips. In a season of lucky bounces and last-second escapes, do they have the firepower to beat the ultimate boss?

Sean Sylver can be heard on 98.5 The Sports Hub. You can follow him on Twitter @TheSylverFox.