Let's Look Back - Cavs vs. Celtics Playoff History


Forgive the little play on words in the title, the band, Boston, is one of my all-time favorites and one of their biggest hits was "Don't Look Back".  Here is a brief history of previous Cleveland vs. Boston playoff series, a history that began in one of the most memorable seasons in Cavaliers history.

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In 1975-76, the Cavaliers enjoyed their first ever winning season, and captured their first division title - they would not win their second until 2009 - and made their first playoff appearance, and unlike the Charlotte Bobcats, who repeated the Cavs' pattern this season, minus the division win, Cleveland actually won their first playoff series ever.  And oh! what a classic it was!  Facing the heavily-favored Washington Bullets, the Cavs won three games that came down to the final shot, one of which was a buzzer beater, and took down the Bullets in seven games, and the Miracle of Richfield entered Cavaliers lore.  The Bullets, unfazed, came back the very next year and won the NBA title.

After the series, Cleveland prepared to meet the Celtics in the Eastern Finals.  In those "olden days", the NBA had a pair of mini-series to begin the playoffs, wherein the two lowest-seeded teams in each conference had to play a series while the rest of the playoff participants had a first round bye, and thus, for the Cavaliers, only two steps would have been needed to reach the Finals.  All seemed well until a practice before the Boston series began, when Jim Chones, the Cavs' starting center, broke his foot, and the bulk of the playoff center load fell on the shoulders of 33-year old Nate Thurmond, who had been acquired earlier that season in a trade with the Chicago Bulls.

Names etched in history played for those Celtics:  Jo-Jo White, Dave Cowens, John Havlicek, Paul Silas, among others, dotted the roster, and when the neophyte Cavs went into Boston for the first game, it looked like a mismatch, with Cleveland playing without their main big man.  And true to expectations, the Celtics took the first two games in the series...then the Cavaliers' magic kicked in again and, back at the Coliseum, Cleveland won the next two games and evened the series.  Back to Boston it went, where the Celtics took care of their business by five points, and then Boston closed out the series in Cleveland with a 94-87 victory

Boston then went on to play one of the greatest Finals ever against the Phoenix Suns, winning the title in six games, including a triple-overtime game which many consider the finest and most exciting playoff game ever played.

So the Cavaliers had no reason to hang their heads after their baptism by fire in the NBA post-season.

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There was no reason to expect that the two teams would meet again in 1984-85.  That season, the Cavaliers began the year 2-19, and the yawns could be heard from the mostly empty seats of the Coliseum.  But then something happened, and the Cavs got hot, crept back into the playoff race by finishing the year 34-27, and though ending up ten games under .500, found themselves prepping for a first-round match-up with the 63-win Celtics.  It turned out to be quite a series, though Cleveland won only one of the four games.  In Boston the Celtics won by only 3 points, and then in the next game by only 2, and the series shifted to Cleveland, where the yawns had turned to roars, and the Cavs treated their fans to a 105-98 victory

The inevitable happened in game four, as the Celtics, in Cleveland, won once again by a mere two points, 117-115.  Boston went on to eventually face the Lakers in the Finals, this time losing in six, but the Cavaliers could take solace in their marvelous playoff push, and by the fact that in losing the series, they had scored exactly as many points as Boston had. 

Such are the consolation prizes our franchise sometimes has to hang its hat on.

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The next time around, in 1991-92, the tables were set to be turned, and they did.  Cleveland finished with 57 wins, six more than Boston, and had home court advantage in the Eastern semifinals, after dispatching the New Jersey Nets in the first round.

Cleveland overwhelmed Boston in the opener, 101-76, but the Celtics bounced back and stunned the Cavs in game two, and stole away home court.  The series shifted to Boston and the Celtics held serve in the third game, but the Cavaliers snatched home court back with an overtime thriller in game four, and the series became a best of three.

Cleveland won game five, by 16 points, then the Celtics returned the favor with a blowout in game six, and one more time the series shifted to Richfield, where the Cavs advanced to the Eastern Finals with a 122-104 victory.

Of course, next for Cleveland were the Bulls, who ended the Cavaliers' season in six games.

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Which brings us to 2007-2008, and to a series most, if not all, of us remember with either fondness for Boston fans, or despair for Cleveland.

In a second-round series highlighted by a LeBron James dunk which has become a staple on highlight reels, and by a classic scoring duel between Paul Pierce (with 41) and LeBron (with 45) in the final game, the Celtics advanced toward another NBA title in a series where every game was won by the home team, and the Celtics 66 wins trumped Cleveland's 45, and turned out to be the difference

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And here we are again, a storied franchise, the most successful franchise in NBA history, vs. the ever-questing Cavaliers.

It should be fun....enjoy!

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