WALTHAM, Mass. - Doc Rivers got a chance to see another side of LeBron James in February, when the Celtics coach was running the Eastern Conference All-Star team and the Cavaliers forward was winning the game's MVP award for the second time.
It wasn't the shooting: Rivers has seen James score 30 points just about every time he's played Boston. Or the rebounding that led Rivers to dub James "Shaq-at-guard." Or the passing the coach compared to a Nolan Ryan fastball.
"His focus in the timeouts," Rivers said after practice yesterday. "It actually caught me off guard. His eyes were like beaming at me. You don't see that often. Especially not at the All-Star game."
Rivers will have to watch James work from the other bench tonight when Cleveland comes to Boston for Game 1 of their second-round playoff series. Unfortunately, he didn't pick anything up while coaching James that will help him coach against him.
Before being held to a mere 26 points in their final regular-season matchup, James scored 30 or more in nine straight games against the Celtics - something only Wilt Chamberlain can match. Seven of those performances came before Boston put together its Big Three, though.
In three games this season, James averaged 32 points, seven rebounds and just under 10 assists.
"You've always got to keep an eye on him wherever he is on the court," said Paul Pierce, who will be primarily responsible for guarding the person he called "arguably the best player in the NBA."
"I'm not trying to turn this into a one-on-one. I know that I don't have to get 35 points and 15 rebounds for us to win."
That's because while Cleveland is largely
LeBron and his supporting cast, the Celtics can boast three legitimate stars in Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen. Pierce and Allen also joined James at the All-Star game; Garnett sat out with an abdominal strain after finishing first in fan voting.
Allen obviously enjoyed being James' teammate: The Celtics guard scored a game-high 28 points and made three straight 3-pointers in the last 3:15 to lead the East to victory.
What did he learn from playing with James?
"If I'd taken two more shots," Allen said with a smile, "I probably would have won the MVP."
Boston plays lip service to worrying about the rest of the Cavaliers, but Cleveland really has to spread its defense to cover the three all-stars.
"I think with [Garnett], Ray and Paul, they feel like it's their time," Cavaliers center Zydrunas Ilgauskas said. "They had such a great regular season and they feel like this is their shot at winning it all. Because the longer you stay in the league, you realize how few and far between they are. They feel like this is their year."
The Celtics won an NBA-best 66 games in the regular season, then needed seven games to put away the upstart Atlanta Hawks in the first round. Cleveland needed six games to dispatch the Washington Wizards in the first round.42.37644 -71.23532