LeBron’s legacy at stake as Celtics eye conference final sweep

Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James (23) reacts to not getting a foul called during the third quarter of the Eastern conference finals of the 2018 NBA Playoffs against the Boston Celtics at TD Garden.LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers face a must-win situation at home in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Final on Thursday. The Cavaliers trail 2-0 to the Boston Celtics, who appeared to be firmly in control of the first two games in Boston and can take a commanding series lead with just one victory in Cleveland. A triple-double from James with 42 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds wasn’t enough to lift the Cavaliers in Game 2, but a series loss to the Celtics would end his NBA Finals streak and ultimately hurt his case for being the greatest basketball player of all time.

James was named a finalist for MVP after having one of the more impressive regular seasons of his career at 33 years old. His continued dominance has reinvigorated the conversation around whether he can take the title of greatest of all time from Michael Jordan. But James’ case for being the greatest is built around his constant presence in the finals, and this shorthanded Celtics team should have no business getting in his way. Boston is winning despite missing two of its top players, which is all people will remember if Cleveland doesn’t prevail.

James got out to a flying start in Game 2 but a scary collision with Boston’s Jayson Tatum slowed him down considerably in the second half. James’ head and neck area collided with Tatum’s shoulder, and James briefly left the game with what the Cavaliers deemed a neck strain. Obviously James’ health is of utmost importance to Cleveland, which doesn’t appear capable of generating much offense outside of him and Kevin Love, but another Cavaliers player like Kyle Korver or JR Smith or Tristan Thompson will need to step up and help against a Celtics team that is winning by playing as a unit.

The teams James has been on didn’t often find themselves trailing 2-0 in a playoff series. This is just the second time since 2008 he has been in this position, and the other recent time was the 2016 finals, when he guided the Cavaliers to a championship in seven games. If he can do something similar against Boston, his streak - and his legacy - will remain intact, but a loss could mean the end of many things, including James’ time in Cleveland due to his pending free agency.