Cavaliers, Celtics ready to start Eastern Conference finals rematch

FILE - In this Feb. 11, 2018, file photo, Cleveland Cavaliers' LeBron James (23) drives against Boston Celtics' Marcus Morris (13) during the third quarter of an NBA basketball game in Boston. They both took winding paths to get here, but the Cleveland Cavaliers and Boston Celtics are back in the Eastern Conference finals for the second straight season. LeBron James is looking to join an elite list of players to appear in eight consecutive NBA finals. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer, File)

By KYLE HIGHTOWER

AP Sports Writer

BOSTON — The jerseys and venues will be the same, but so much has changed since the last time Cleveland Cavaliers and Boston Celtics met in the Eastern Conference finals.

Kyrie Irving was dealt to Boston in a blockbuster offseason deal for Isaiah Thomas and Jae Crowder. But following a roster upheaval in February, the Cavs were left with only five players from last year’s team that rolled past the Celtics 4-1 to earn a place in the NBA Finals.

Irving will watch this year’s rematch from the sideline after a pair of knee surgeries late in the regular season denied him an opportunity to play this postseason. It was the capstone of an injury-plagued year in Boston that also saw the seasons of Gordon Hayward and rookie Daniel Theis truncated.

The one constant has been Cleveland’s LeBron James, who at age 33 has again found another gear in the playoffs despite the different pieces surrounding him. His 34.3 scoring average in these playoffs is his highest since the 2009 postseason.

James can become the sixth player in league history to play in at least eight consecutive NBA Finals. The five others who have done so all played with the Celtics, led by Hall of Famer Bill Russell’s run of 10 straight appearances.

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