Much has changed since August 22, when the Cavs traded superstar Kyrie Irving to the Celtics for Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic, the Brooklyn Nets' 2018 first-round draft pick, and a 2020 second-round draft pick.
With Thomas a mess and the season slipping away, Cavs general manager Koby Altman traded him on February 8 to the Lakers for Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr.
He is well aware Boston is without his former Cleveland running mate in Kyrie Irving (knee) and only had marquee free-agent signee Gordon Hayward (ankle) for one quarter this season. In the last two series, Boston was willing to largely single cover the opposing team's star and let him rack up points - Giannis Antetokounmpo then Joel Embiid - but then stay home on the shooters and the rest of the players. Nonetheless, Brad Stevens will need to concoct a plan to defend LeBron James, which is something he's probably been thinking about since the Cavs ended the Celtics' season in five games during last year's Eastern Conference Finals.
Yet, Boston won 55 games during the regular season and increased its win total for the fifth consecutive season under Stevens. Maybe they've just got our number.
The 33-year-old playmaker, whose dream came true in 2016 as he sparked the Cavaliers to ending Cleveland's 52-year pro sports title drought, is the maestro of a deep corps of role players led by forward Kevin Love, whose aggressive play has been ignited by a scoring spark. "Both teams have raised their level of play and been through it, but are here now and have to lay it all on the line".
It looked unlikely both teams would make it to this point during the regular season.
Love was attacked by teammates January 22 for missing most of the Oklahoma City game and practice the next day. Thomas, damaged goods with a mangled hip, never fit in the lineup or meshed in the Cavs' turmoil-filled locker room.
Before the season tipped off, this is the Eastern Conference Finals we expected.
In a timeframe that has often already swallowed up most first-time National Basketball Association coaches, he's managed to endear himself to a championship-driven city by helping Boston make an improbable run back to the Eastern Conference finals. Rozier scored 24 points as the Celtics defeated the 76ers 114-112. James' relationship with owner Dan Gilbert has always been frayed and having brought a championship to his hometown, James could find it easier to leave Cleveland for the second time. Unless LeBron James just decides not to play, gamblers across the country can expect the Celtics to be dogs in every game in the series. Cleveland's defensive effort has been better, as it will be in this series, but their communication and recognition have not been sharp. "And he's a confident player now, so I'm not surprised", James said. If you made me bet my house, I think I would go with Golden State because I've seen it before.
Zizic is the lone player from last summer's blockbuster trade that might play in the series.
In three of the five games played in the series, Simmons shot greater than 50 percent from the field. Boston lost their top two players to season-ending injuries, and Cleveland traded almost half their roster in February. Clarkson, Hill, and Hood, all acquired at the deadline, combined for 44 points.
The key to the Celtics winning Game 1 - and the series - is not stopping King James. He has more postseason points against Boston than anyone has scored against a single opponent in the playoffs in National Basketball Association history.
"I've been fortunate to play with two great franchises in my career and played with some really, really good players", James told reporters Friday.
Two days after dispatching the Washington Wizards in six games in the opening round of the playoffs, the Raptors watched the Cavaliers edge the Indiana Pacers in Game 7 on Sunday, then held practice at Biosteel Centre to prepare for Cleveland.
"LeBron's on just a ridiculous run of play", Stevens said.