CLEVELAND (AP) — LeBron James wrapped up his postgame news conference, popped a toothpick in his mouth and pushed back from the podium as if he had just completed a satisfying meal.
He and the Cavaliers feasted on the Celtics.
Breaking records and Boston hearts, the defending NBA champions continued an unblemished romp through these playoffs — and on course to clash again with Golden State in the Finals — on Friday night with a 130-86 win that was so thoroughly dominating that James sat out the final quarter.
With Cleveland leading by 38 in the third quarter, Cavs forward J.R. Smith mocked some Boston fans by pretending to sweep a broom across their famous parquet floor.
A mop would have been more appropriate for this carnage.
“It’s hard,” Celtics forward Al Horford said. “It’s hard to take.”
It’s probably going to happen again. With Celtics star point guard Isaiah Thomas slowed by a hip injury and iffy for Game 3 on Sunday night, Boston’s season might be down to its final two games.
Locked and loaded from the start, the Cavaliers were precise on both ends in the Game 2 bludgeoning. With ease and relentlessness, James and his teammates imposed their will on the top-seeded and overmatched Celtics, who just days earlier had been filled with optimism after beating Washington in seven games and then winning the NBA draft lottery.
Boston basketball boss Danny Ainge might want to offer that No. 1 pick to Cleveland for James. Because until further notice or he moves, the Eastern Conference is the domain of this king.
Shortly before Friday’s tip-off, the NBA announced that Russell Westbrook, James Harden and Kawhi Leonard are finalists for league MVP, leaving James out of the Top 3 in voting for the regular season award for the first time since 2008.
And while the youthful 32-year-old said he was unaware of the shocking omission when he took the court, he proceeded to score 30 points with four 3-pointers, seven assists, four rebounds, four steals and three blocks, including another one of those chase-downs that have become his calling card.
There may be much more of that ahead in Games 3 and 4 as the Cavs will look to push aside the Celtics quickly and get as many as eight days off before the Finals start on June 1.
That’s a bit presumptuous, of course, but there are no signs Boston can contain the indomitable James, who in his 14th season may be playing better than at any time in his life.
He’s scored at least 30 points in eight consecutive playoff games, this first to do that since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in 1970 and the three-time champ seems as driven as ever, pushing himself and the Cavs to greater heights as they seek another title. Cleveland has won 10 straight in these playoffs and a record-tying 13 in a row dating to Game 5 of last year’s Finals.
Only the 1998-99 Los Angeles Lakers have won as many straight in the postseason as the Cavs, who can take sole possession of the mark on Sunday.
During his postgame media session, James insisted the MVP snub didn’t bother him. His teammates were plenty irritated.
“Just another chip on his shoulder, which helps us,” Smith said. “He got a vote for second team?”
“Somebody’s trippin’,” forward Tristan Thompson offered from an adjacent locker.
“Yeah, somebody’s trippin’,” Smith continued. “Everybody’s entitled to their own opinion. But I don’t see how you could not put him in at least the top three. If he’s not going to win it and you don’t even put him in the top three? It’s crazy, but it’s all good. I like it like that. He’s driven by a completely different monster. He’s not playing for Russ or James.
“He’s chasing a ghost. Right now, that’s the only thing to compare to him.”
The ghost is Michael Jordan, and pursuing his legacy is something James has used as motivation since he was a hoops prodigy on the courts in Akron.
Nearing a seventh straight trip to the Finals — a feat last accomplished by those Bill Russell-led Celtics teams in the 60s — James needs 73 points to surpass Jordan as the top scorer in playoff history. He has already gone past Jordan on many other lists, and another championship would bring him within two of Jordan’s six.
But James’ only focus now is the present, Game 3, a chance to make more history and even send a message to the Warriors.
“I’m a guy who lives in the moment,” James said. “Our team is in a great groove, and I’m happy to be a part of that groove. At the end of the day, we want to try to put ourselves in position to win every game. That’s the goal.”