Thanks to their win in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals on Tuesday night, the Boston Celtics have a 2-0 edge on a LeBron James-led Cleveland Cavaliers squad. The series shifts to Cleveland for the next two games, starting with Saturday’s Game 3 (8:30 ET, ESPN). Yet to former Celtics star/LeBron nemesis Paul Pierce, there’s a lot of 2010 in this series.
Pierce’s Celtics — which included himself, Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, Rajon Rondo and others — knocked LeBron-led squads out of the playoffs twice in their heyday. First came a Game 7 ousting of Cleveland in the 2008 East semis. Then, in 2010, the Cavs won 61 games and had the best record in the NBA … and lost to Pierce and Co. in six games in the East semis.
Although he’s an NBA analyst for ESPN these days, Pierce couldn’t help but let some Celtic pride shine through as he spoke with Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald over the phone today. In the interview, he spoke about Boston’s surprising run after injuries sacked stars Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward, as well as watching his old team torment James like in the old days.
“We could be seeing history repeat itself,” Pierce said through laughter. “That’s the funny part about it, because if Boston beats them, we all know he’s gone. He may be gone anyway.”
“I mean, they were our rivals,” he told the Herald. “You know, me and LeBron, we were like the top small forwards in the conference at the time, and it turned into a rivalry. We had a lot of good battles. That’s something that you just don’t forget. He’s one of the greatest players to ever play this game. I had a chance to take advantage of him for a couple of years, and after that you’ve seen his dominance. It’s nothing personal, but that’s what it was at the time.”
“For these guys to be so young and then be in the playoffs and then be in the Eastern Conference finals, that’s just helping them grow. It’s one of those deals where when you give a player confidence — and I give a lot of that credit to Brad Stevens — and that player has potential, that can grow into something special. And I think that’s what I think we’re witnessing right now with these guys. They’re getting tons of confidence, and they’re running with it. Even with the other guys gone, Brad’s putting these guys out there, and he’s expecting the same results. He expects these guys he puts out there to do great.”
James and the Cavs lost Game 6 on May 13, 2010. Less than two months later, on July 8, 2010, James had his famous “Decision” news conference and left the Cavs for the Miami Heat. As the Celtics have built their 2-0 edge, Pierce says he sees similarities in how this edition of the team is like his from 2010.
“In 2010 when we played them down the stretch of the season when we were battling for seeding, we wanted to match up with Cleveland. We sat with Doc [Rivers] and talked about what seed we wanted. We said we wanted to get Cleveland in the second round, because we knew the way our defense was designed, we could beat a one-man team.
“Even though we didn’t have success with them during the regular season, when we got down to scouting them out, we felt like we had the advantage against Cleveland. And it looks like, right now, this is not a good matchup for Cleveland again. They’re lucky that Kyrie isn’t out there. If the role players don’t play well for Cleveland, they’re in trouble. A lot of things are really being put on the shoulders of Kevin Love to step up.”
In 2009-10, Pierce’s Celtics were 2-2 against James’ Cavs. This season, the Celtics were 1-2 against the Cavs in the regular season, but the story has changed in the playoffs. And while Pierce obviously can’t affect the outcome of this series as he could in 2010, he nonetheless seems to be enjoying Boston’s start in the East finals.
“I hope the Celtics make it to The Finals,” Pierce needled, “because I don’t want to go to Cleveland. I’m tired of going to Cleveland for The Finals.”
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