LeBron James has battled numerous playoff rivals since making his postseason debut in 2006. The Pistons, Spurs and Warriors have all played their parts at various junctures.
None of them have matched up against James with the same consistency as the Celtics. Boston has frequently been a foil for the 33-year-old at critical moments in his career.
Of the nearly 10,000 playoff minutes James has logged in his career, some of the most meaningful have happened in series against the Celtics.
Here’s a look at the times LeBron has met the Celtics in the playoffs prior to this year’s Eastern Conference finals, which are currently underway.
2008 Eastern Conference Semifinals: Celtics over Cavaliers, 4-3
In the first Celtics vs. LeBron series, Boston was in its debut season with the new “Big Three.” Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce played especially large roles, while 23-year-old James led all scorers with 26.7 points per game.
Looking back now, it was a different era of basketball. Game 1, won by the Celtics at home, finished 76-72. Game 6, won by he Cavs in Cleveland, finished 74-69. The total number of three-pointers attempted in the seven-game series was 222 (compare that to the 338 attempted in the five-game series in 2017).
Despite being overmatched at a team level, James helped to force a Game 7 in Boston. It resulted in a famous duel between Pierce and James. And while James won the private duel (45 points to Pierce’s 41), he lost the series as the Celtics prevailed, 97-92.
2010 Eastern Conference Semifinals: Celtics over Cavaliers, 4-2
By 2010, the complexion of the Celtics-Cavaliers matchup had changed. James spearheaded Cleveland’s rise to become the top seed in the Eastern Conference in back-to-back seasons. While the Celtics were far from counted out, the Cavs were seen as a much tougher matchup than they had been two years before.
Cleveland took a 2-1 lead, but then the wheels fell off for James’s Cavs. Boston won three in a row to close out the series 4-2. The nadir came when James shot 3-14, scoring only 15 points in a Game 5 loss.
Despite James’s triple-double in Game 6, the Celtics won 94-85. It would be the final game for LeBron’s first go-around in Cleveland. That summer, he announced his “decision” to leave for the Miami Heat.
2011 Eastern Conference Semifinals: Heat over Celtics, 4-1
In his first season with the Heat, James met the Celtics on different terms than the preceding clashes. This time, he was the one with the superior team. And it showed in Game 1, as Dwyane Wade led with 38 points and Chris Bosh added a game-high 12 rebounds.
Boston proved unable to solve Miami’s version of the “Big Three,” losing in five games. Yet James and the Heat would fall short of their expected title with a loss to the Mavericks in the Finals.
2012 Eastern Conference Finals: Heat over Celtics, 4-3
One season later, the Celtics met the Heat with a trip to the Finals on the line. It was the first time James faced Boston in an Eastern Conference Finals, and the matchup did not disappoint.
The Heat raced to a 2-0 series lead despite Rajon Rondo’s 44 points in Game 2, before the Celtics evened it out at home in Games 3 and 4. It was at this point that the series drama elevated, as Boston took an improbable 3-2 lead by stealing home-court advantage in Miami with a hard-fought Game 5 win.
Heading back to Boston and staring elimination in the face, James loomed on the edge of another playoff disappointment at the hands of the Celtics. Bucking prognostications, he produced one of his best career postseason performances. Behind 45 points and 15 rebounds, the Heat sent the series to Game 7, where they prevailed. It led to James’s first career championship, the road having gone directly through TD Garden.
2015 Eastern Conference First Round: Cavaliers over Celtics, 4-0
By 2015, LeBron was back in Cleveland and Boston was minus Garnett and Pierce. It was the Celtics’ first playoff appearance under Brad Stevens, and the dynamic was clearly different. At 40-42, the Celtics were a year ahead of schedule in the rebuild.
Predictably, Cleveland rolled through a four-game sweep behind James and Kyrie Irving. One of the few notable moments of the series came when Kevin Love accused Kelly Olynyk of intentionally injuring him.
2017 Eastern Conference Finals, Cavaliers over Celtics, 4-1
By the second LeBron-Celtics matchup of the Stevens era, Boston was more of an assembled roster than its 2015 predecessor. Of course, the loss of primary scorer Isaiah Thomas in Game 2 rendered the series outcome essentially beyond doubt (that, and Cleveland shooting 43.6 percent from three-point range).
Still, the Celtics staged a dramatic comeback in Cleveland in Game 3, rallying from 21 points down in the third quarter. In the end, it was all the drama that Boston could produce, as James and Irving proved too much. The Cavs ended the Celtics’ run, averaging 120.4 points per game.