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Do you remember the moment that you learned about this happening?
The Boston Celtics team that just earned themselves the #1 seed in the East while making a playoff run to the Eastern Conference Finals, was officially destroyed. Danny Ainge began the demolition with Avery Bradley, by sending him to the Detroit Pistons to make cap space enough for Gordon Hayward. This second trade sent the rest of the team's core out of town. Now, only four players from the 2017 Celtics remained.


But the Celtics acquired Kyrie Irving, one of the best young players that the NBA had to offer. A champion, having just lifted the Larry O'Brien Trophy a year prior. The guy who hit the dagger, game winning shot in the last minute of the NBA Finals' Game 7.



The next year, Kyrie and the Cavs would head to the finals again, for the third straight year. To get there, they had to go through the Celtics team that Isaiah Thomas led. Kyrie was hated in Boston. He was the enemy. A friend of LeBron James. And Isaiah was beloved. He was the guy who put the Celtics' rebuild on his back by recruiting Al Horford and Gordon Hayward to town. A top 5 MVP candidate that season, who averaged 28.9 points on .463 shooting from the field and .379 from deep, 5.9 assists, and 2.7 rebound. The fearless leader who took the Cs back to the Eastern Conference Finals.

And the two had just traded sides. No one knew what to think.

Then the drama began.

Isaiah Thomas expressed how betrayed he felt, and put all of the blame on Danny. Via Sports Illustrated:

I might not ever talk to Danny again. That might not happen. I'll talk to everybody else. But what he did, knowing everything I went through, you don't do that, bro. That's not right. 

Then rumors of a long-time Lebron/Kyrie feud began to spread. Via The Athletic:

One day during the three years LeBron James and Kyrie Irving spent as teammates, Drederick Irving was exiting the Cavs’ locker room when Randy Mims was entering. Mims, one of James’ lifelong friends and an official Cavs employee, reached out his hand to slap Drederick five. But Dred, Irving’s father, pulled his own arm back and refused the gesture.

When James later asked Irving about the incident and if there was something wrong, Irving said his father believed they shouldn’t be “fraternizing with the enemy.”

Three sources with knowledge of the exchange independently confirmed it to The Athletic, revealing just a glimmer of light into a fractured relationship that both men hid well during their time together.

A complicated relationship between the teams and their fans had developed. Celtics' fans hated the Cavaliers, but liked Isaiah Thomas. They found themselves rooting against the Cavs, but for Isaiah, and also now had to cheer for Kyrie, a guy whom they had hated for years. Isaiah, who took pride in being a Celtic, now showed some degree of hate towards them, and was forced to fraternize with players who he had formally battled against. Kyrie Irving is the only one who seems to have seamlessly transitioned, immediately showing love for Boston and dislike for Cleveland.

A lot of confused hate was being thrown around. And it meant that the Eastern Conference Finals between these teams was going to be nuts. It would be Isaiah's return to Boston, Kyrie's return to Cleveland, LeBron against the Celtics, and the premier of a new Big-3 all wrapped into one.

But then nothing, for both teams, went as planned.

The trade was initially held up because Isaiah Thomas failed a physical. All of a sudden, the potential of the deal falling through became realistic, and the awkwardness of each player returning to the teams that didn't want them became a possible reality as well. 

After 8 days of negotiations, the deal became official. The Celtics added a 2020 second round pick to their tab.

But information on Isaiah's hip continued to come out. It became clear that he would miss the teams' season opener against each other, and after that, his tenure on the DL continued to lengthen, and no one knew exactly how long he'd be out for. 


He eventually returned, having missed the season's first 36 games, on January 2nd against the Portland Trail Blazers. The Cavs blew them out in a 17 point victory, and Isaiah finished with 17 points and 3 assists in 19 minutes of action. It seemed as though the All-Star point guard had returned.

But over the next 17 games, the Cavs went 7-10. Isaiah had a negative +/- in 11 of those games, in which he only played 15 of. His defensive deficiencies became obvious, they said that he stopped ball movement, and that he turned over the ball too much. He was blamed for the lack of success in Clevelenad, which he thought was unfair. Via ESPN: 

We've been a lowest five defensive team in the NBA the whole time. So when I come back, it's my fault now. Which, life isn't fair, but that's not fair, bro.

Not far after, when the trade deadline arrived in February, the Cavaliers blew up their floundering team, trading Isaiah to the Los Angeles Lakers in the process.

Isaiah never returned to the parquet, and the point guard rivalry between he and Irving never saw the light of day.

The Cavaliers won the next three games after their roster change, and all was thought to be fixed in Cleveland, but the mirage only lasted so long. The Cavs went right back to where they were before the Isaiah trade, and continued to struggle. They finished the season with a record of 50-32, and were beaten out by three Eastern Conference teams in playoff seeding. They went into the playoffs as the four seed, with doubt was draped on their shoulders.

The Celtics team that began this season eventually became dismantled, too, but in a different fashion. The team became injury plagued in their first game, when Gordon Hayward went down with a broken ankle, ending his season. Others would follow suit throughout the season.

Marcus Smart missed 28 regular season games and 4 playoff games with various hand injuries. Daniel Theis tore his ACL , forcing him to miss all of the playoffs. Shane Larkin went down in Game 6 versus the Philadelphia 76ers with a shoulder injury, and he hasn't returned to the lineup since. And the most severe of all, Kyrie Irving had knee surgery, forcing him to miss the entirety of the playoffs.

The two teams that were pegged to face each other in the Eastern Conference finals at the beginning of the season, went into the playoffs surrounded by uncertainty: the Celtics with their supposedly thin and young roster, and the Cavs as their lowest seed since LeBron returned to the city, with probably the worst team since.

But both have prevailed thus far.

They both took their first round opponents to seven games. The Celtics beat the Milwaukee Bucks, and the Cavs defeated the Indiana Pacers. They both had easier times in the Eastern Conference semi-finals. The Cavs swept the Toronto Raptors, and the Cs took down the Sixers in 5.

And now here we are.

The Boston Celtics and Cleveland Cavaliers will face each other in their conference's final round, with lineups that are unrecognizable from when the season began. It will be the second year in a row that the teams will match up in the Eastern Conference Finals, with completely different rosters from last year, as well.

Through all of the adversity over the last year, the rivalry, even veiled, lives on for another year. It will either be the story of the dominant LeBron James or the young, Brad Stevens led Celtics.

Game 1 is Sunday at 3:30. It will be a doozy of a series. Let's go Celtics!

Follow Sean Waukewan

Photo: ABC News

Sean Waukewan 5/12/2018 04:09:00 PM Edit
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