They had to play seven games just to get out of the first round, and seven more to finish a climb out of 2-0 deficit against a younger, more athletic Celtics team.
For James, a potential free agent, the victory postponed a decision about his future until next month.
James led the Cavaliers in the first half with 17 points and 10 rebounds but they trailed for much of the half in front of a crowd of 18,600 at the Boston Garden.
"I was like, 'OK, I am not quite sure what we are going to do with this ball club; we are not playing good basketball, ' but you can't sell yourself short", James said. He has a history of concussions, including one during the 2016 NBA Finals against the Golden State Warriors, which caused him to miss Game 3 of the series.
This will not be an easy task for James and his buddies, who will try to hand the Celtics their only loss in 11 postseason home games. The game was not pretty at times, but Cleveland overcame all the adversity to win the biggest game of the season thus far.
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It's tempting to view all of LeBron James' theatrics with a tint of cynicism.
"We said we want to do this for Kevin, " Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue said. "So just to be able to compete against a player like him and be a few shots away from beating him and his team to go to a championship is something I will always remember". He started for Kevin Love and scored 19 points with eight rebounds, and provided the versatility to switch onto any Boston player on defense in what was Cleveland's best defensive performance statistically of the entire season. "That's why we're going to another Finals because my teammates played a hell of a game".
"It was pretty incredible run by an incredible group of guys, and an absolute pleasure and privilege to be around them every day", Stevens said.
When Nichols asked if James' relationship with Gilbert would affect his free-agency decision, James said, "We're going to see". Tatum posted 24 points and seven rebounds for the Celtics. He's averaged 7.6 points in the postseason. Paul Pierce, whose number was retired by the Celtics this season, cheered the team on from courtside.
However, the Celtics' starting backcourt duo of Terry Rozier and Jaylen Brown combined to go 3-of-22 from 3-point range.