BOSTON -- The Cleveland Cavaliers are as hot as any team in postseason history, and a third straight trip to the NBA Finals appears to be a foregone conclusion.
Friday's 130-86 win over the Boston Celtics to go up 2-0 in the Eastern Conference finals was the Cavs' 13th straight playoff win dating to their comeback from down 3-1 to win the 2016 NBA Finals against the Golden State Warriors. It matches the Los Angeles Lakers' mark of 13 in a row in 1988 and 1989.
LeBron James' teams are 20-0 all time in series in which they've held a 2-0 lead, and the way this one has started, that perfect record doesn't seem to be in any jeopardy.
Following Cleveland's dominant Game 1 win, in which the Cavs led by as many as 28, James reasoned his team could play even better.
He was right. Oh man, was he right.
The Cavs put on a clinic against the Celtics, crushing their spirits with crisp defensive execution matched only by their offensive onslaught. JR Smith's whirling turnaround jump shot to beat the halftime buzzer put the Cavs up 72-31, a staggering 41-point advantage.
The 41-point bulge through two quarters accounted for the largest halftime lead in NBA postseason history, besting the 40-point cushion that the Detroit Pistons held over the Washington Bullets in Game 2 of their 1987 first-round series (Detroit led 76-36).
The lead would swell as high as 50 in the second half.
"We just want to try to get better," James said. "I also told you we had another level. You looked at me crazy when I told you that. I believe we've got another level, as well. As well as we played tonight, there were still some things we could have done better. We had a few bad turnovers offensively that we could do better. We had a couple miscues defensively where we gave up some open looks. We can get better. That's the positive for our ballclub.
"There's no complacency with us right now. There shouldn't be. It's the postseason. But we like where we're headed and the direction we're headed right now."
Boston didn't get any breaks from the NBA, which might have provided James with extra motivation by announcing the finalists for its regular-season awards Friday night.
On Thursday, the All-NBA teams were announced, and amazingly, only 99 of the 100 voters had James on the first team. Then Friday, shortly before tipoff, the league released the top three finalists for MVP -- which will be named at an awards show on June 26 -- and James was left off a list that featured Russell Westbrook, James Harden and Kawhi Leonard.
It was the first time since 2008 that James finished outside of the top three in MVP voting, yet it was a season in which he averaged career bests in rebounds, assists and 3-point percentage.
Then again, the Celtics brought this on themselves too. Adding to the James disrespect inventory was Boston rookie Jaylen Brown telling Comcast SportsNet New England before Game 2 that the four-time MVP was "just another guy to me" and adding, "I have no fear whatsoever of LeBron." It echoed comments made by Isaiah Thomas this week when he said the Cavs were "not the Monstars. They're not on 'Space Jam.' Like, they lace up their shoes just like us."
It's just what they do on the court once they slip those shoes on that looks far superior.
James' night was done with 1:47 remaining in the third quarter and the Cavs up by 46. He had 30 points on 12-for-18 shooting, 7 assists, 4 rebounds, 4 steals and 3 blocks. Thomas played like Muggsy Bogues' character in "Space Jam" after the Monstars sapped his talents. He finished with two points on 0-for-6 shooting, six assists and three rebounds, and he didn't play in the second half because of a right hip strain.
James matched two playoff marks set by legends of the game in scoring 30 points for his eighth straight playoff game, tying Michael Jordan for the longest such streak in modern playoff history (since 1984) and also tying Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's record of 10 straight playoff games with 25-plus points on 50 percent shooting.
Kevin Love followed up his big series opener with 21 points on 7-of-14 shooting and 12 rebounds. Kyrie Irving, who shot just 4-for-11 in Game 1 and came into Friday with only one playoff game in which he shot better than 50 percent this spring, found his stroke and finished with 23 points on 8-of-11 shooting.
Avery Bradley, whose 6-for-17 shooting night was right in line with his team that shot 37.2 percent, called the game "embarrassing." Brown said, "We got our ass kicked. ... The defending champs swept us off the floor."
Cavs coach Tyronn Lue warned against overconfidence, however. "I mean, it's one game," Lue said. "I don't care if you win by 200 points. It's one game, and we know this team is a very scrappy team."
Irving's shooting mirrored Cleveland's as a team, shooting 19-for-39 from 3-point range, a significant improvement from its 11-for-31 mark Wednesday.
The Celtics changed their starting lineup, inserting Gerald Green in place of Amir Johnson. Green offered an initial spurt, scoring six points on 2-for-2 shooting from 3, helping to cut an early 9-2 Cavs lead down to 11-10.
Cleveland went on a 12-0 run from there and never relented.
Brown, to his credit, backed up his statement about James with 19 points on 7-of-10 shooting off the bench to lead Boston, though 13 of those points came in a second half that wasn't competitive. Cleveland's bench also played better, however, scoring 40 points as a group after having only 14 combined points in Game 1.
Game 3 will be on Sunday in Cleveland's Quicken Loans Arena.
"We're getting stops, contesting every single shot, making plays for one another and playing selfless basketball. It's beautiful," Irving said. "It's great to be a part of. We don't take this for granted at all; I'm going to continue to say it, because we understand how valuable it is to win on the road or win any games in the playoffs.
"Now we put our focus to Game 3 and prepare for a home-court game against a great team like the Celtics. It's going to be tough."