Cavaliers point guard George Hill had no trouble vocalizing the difference between playing against LeBron James to playing with him.

The contrast in feelings is so stark that Hill couldn’t edit out an expletive even as the gratitude poured out of him.

“S***, the difference is I was friggin’ packing up tomorrow doing an exit meeting at this time,” Hill said Sunday night at TD Garden after the Cavs defeated the Boston Celtics to earn their fourth consecutive trip to the NBA Finals. “Three times he put us out of the playoffs with Miami. That feeling sucked. But the feeling to come back today, Game 7, to finally win it and play in the Finals is a true blessing.”

After putting away the Celtics in the Eastern Conference finals, the Cavs advanced to meet the Golden State Warriors for the fourth consecutive year, with Game 1 of the Finals Thursday night at Oracle Arena.

Hill is one of four Cavs who have fallen victim to four-time league MVP James during their playoff careers.

Hill and the Indiana Pacers experienced heartbreak three consecutive years when James played for the Heat. The Pacers lost in the East semifinals 4-2 in 2012 and in the East finals 4-3 in 2013 and 4-2 in 2014.

Kyle Korver lost to James three times. In 2011, Korver’s Chicago Bulls fell to the Heat 4-1 in the East finals. In 2015 and ’16, Korver was with the Atlanta Hawks as the Cavs swept them in the East finals and semifinals, respectively.

Jeff Green’s Celtics were eliminated by James and the Heat in the 2011 East semifinals 4-1 and in the East finals 4-3 in 2012, the season Green missed because of open heart surgery.

J.R. Smith was on the losing end in 2012, when the Knicks lost 4-1 to the Heat in the first round.

Hill has spoken most frequently about his past frustrations competing against James. When the issue was brought up on Feb. 10 in Hill’s first media interview after joining the Cavs in a Feb. 8 trade with Sacramento, he said, “Way to remind me of that.”

But the four’s history against James has also made them more appreciative of reaching the Finals. It will be the first trip for Hill and Green, the second for Korver, acquired in a Jan. 7, 2017 trade with the Hawks. Smith is one of four Cavs making his fourth consecutive appearance.

“It kind of brought tears to my eyes because the year I started out with, I never would’ve imagined this year would turn out the way it turned out,” Hill said Sunday. “I was in not such a good place earlier this season. Got to give all the glory to God to get me out of that situation, to put me in a better situation where I can get used a little bit more and try to compete for a Finals.

“I’m super happy, but I couldn’t have done none of this without my teammates. They deserve all the credit. I was just a supporting cast trying to do the best I can to get there. It wasn’t one single guy — it was 16, 17 guys every day fighting for that one common goal.”

In February, Hill revealed how tough it was to get so close to the Finals and lose to James. The most painful came in the opener of the East finals in Miami in 2013, when James hit a buzzer-beating game-winning layup in overtime.

“You work every year to get to that point and we ran across a three-headed monster ...” Hill said, referring to the Heat’s James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. “We played ’em three straight years … We just think, ‘Man, if we just would’ve gotten that Game 7,’ or maybe that game in Miami that year LeBron hit the game-winner. Who knows, we probably woulda been champs. But he’s a champ, he’s the MVP, an All-Star for a reason. One of the best to do it, so I tip my hat to him.”

Korver tips his hat to James even more now than when he was on the wrong end of a Cavs sweep.

“I don’t even know [what] to say about him anymore,” Korver said Sunday. “My respect for him and how he plays the game and how he approaches the game and how he works on his game and [how] he knows he needs all of us to win.

“He takes so much pride on what he does out there on the court and he embraces the moment. I thought I had as much respect as I could have for him, but it just keeps on going up. It’s unbelievable. His abilities give the rest of us confidence.”

Hill, 31, has missed the playoffs in just one of his 10 seasons. Korver, 37, has been 12 times in 15 seasons, staying home three of his four years in Philadelphia. Green, 31, is appearing in the postseason for the sixth time in 10 seasons. Smith, 32, has reached the playoffs 11 times in 14 years.

As they’ve gotten older, they have a greater understanding of the opportunity.

“When you’re younger you just kind of assume things are going to happen,” Korver said on May 21 after a Game 4 victory over the Celtics. “I’ve been fortunate to be on a lot of good teams, a lot of playoff teams. But even to get into the conference finals is really tough. You definitely cherish it, you definitely try to embrace the moments.”

Green said he’s learned “possibly everything” from playing one season with James.

“I’m seeing firsthand what it takes to be great, and he leads by example,” Green said. “He comes in every day, preparing his body, preparing his game, his craft.

“I’m going to have his back. I’m going to be in a battle with him, and I enjoy the moment that this is, that we have. To be alongside him, I’m going to enjoy each day and continue to work to get to the ultimate goal.”

Green understands the obligation that comes in being James’ teammate.

“Yeah, of course. You want to be there for him,” Green said. “You want to be in the trenches, in the battle, helping him achieve the ultimate goal. For me it’s a no-brainer to go out there and give it all I have.”

Korver said he and Hill have never discussed their common bond of going from James’ victim to James’ teammate. But even before the Cavs reached the Finals, Korver’s appreciation of what the Cavs had done was strong and heartfelt.

“I haven’t talked to George about that specifically, but I think he definitely feels the same way,” Korver said on May 21. “Just because LeBron’s been here so many years in a row, sometimes some people can take it for granted or just expect it to happen. But it’s hard to get this far in the playoffs. You definitely don’t want to take it for granted.”

Marla Ridenour can be reached at mridenour@thebeaconjournal.com. Read the Cavs blog at www.ohio.com/cavs. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ.