After beating the Cavaliers by 27, Boston now has outscored its opponents by 89 points in eight home games – an average of more than 11 points per game. Meanwhile, in Boston’s five road games, they have been outscored by 45 points – an average of nine points per game.
Even when factoring in Boston traditionally having a big home-court advantage, a 20-point swing from home to road is wild. The other teams still in the playoffs – Golden State, Houston and Cleveland – have far smaller swings. It also makes sense, given Boston has a younger and more inexperienced team than the other conference finalists.
Still, that doesn’t take away from the impressive nature in which Boston bludgeoned Cleveland into submission Sunday. The Celtics shot 51.2 percent from the floor, went 11 for 30 from three (36.7 percent) and scored 93 of their 108 points either in the paint (60) or from behind the three-point arc (33).
Al Horford continued what has been a terrific postseason by going for 20 points on 8-for-10 shooting (his only two misses being from three) while grabbing four rebounds and dishing out six assists. Jaylen Brown led the Celtics in scoring with 23 points, while Marcus Morris had 21 points and 10 rebounds after being inserted into the starting lineup in place of Aron Baynes to guard LeBron James.
Cleveland, meanwhile, couldn’t hit a shot. The Cavaliers shot 36 percent overall, went 4 for 26 from three, and gave up 17 points off their 10 turnovers. LeBron James was far from his usual self, looking disengaged through most of the game while going for 15 points, seven rebounds on 5-for-16 shooting, including 0 for 5 from three, while committing seven turnovers and finishing a game-worst minus-32.
His teammates didn’t provide much help, though. Kevin Love led Cleveland with 17 points, but went 5 for 14 from the floor. J.R. Smith went 2 for 9 in 29 minutes. Kyle Korver went 1 for 5 from three. Tristan Thompson gave the Cavaliers decent minutes off the bench, but otherwise the second unit offered little (outside of some late, meaningless points from Jordan Clarkson and Rodney Hood).
It all added up to one truly ugly result for Cleveland – and yet another notch in Boston’s belt, as the underrated Celtics took yet another lead in a series they were predicted to lose. Now, after Boston’s dominant victory, the focus will shift back to Cleveland, and whether James can put this team on his back and do something no one else has managed to in this postseason: win a game in Boston.
We’ll let Donovan Mitchell’s caption on a picture of his ridiculous tip dunk in Game 2 of the Western Conference semifinals sum up the state of Celtics-Cavaliers as Boston has this game on cruise control midway through the fourth quarter:
It’s time for the starters to take a seat in this one, as Boston leads by 28 with seven minutes to go in a game Cleveland hasn’t been in virtually from the get-go.
A 12-3 Cavaliers run to close the third quarter allowed Cleveland to enter the fourth quarter with at least a chance of making this game interesting.
Then Boston immediately scored the first seven points of the fourth quarter and put the game seemingly out of reach again.
A Marcus Morris dunk, a Marcus Smart three and a Jayson Tatum layup took Boston’s lead from 78-64 at the start of the fourth quarter to 85-64 just 69 seconds into it.
Was Cleveland likely to win this game? No. But the Cavaliers’ fleeting hopes of winning it quickly fell away in that disastrous opening 69 seconds.
When “Saturday Night Live” had Donald Glover host last week, it poked fun at the Cavaliers players around LeBron James not being good enough to hang with The King.
Game 1 was proven to back up that line of thinking. While James has been less than his usual best (nine points, five rebounds and eight assists) so far, the rest of the Cavaliers (15 for 45) haven’t been close to good enough. Kevin Love, who needs to be the player he was against the Raptors, is 3 for 10. J.R. Smith is 2 for 9.
For as good as James is, he needs some help. So far in Game 1, he’s getting none.
Kyle Korver hit Cleveland’s first three-pointer three minutes into the third quarter.
Bold strategy by the Cavaliers.
The Cavaliers have lived by their offense all season long. But when their shots don’t fall, the Cavaliers look like a lottery team.
That’s what’s happened so far in Game 1.
Cleveland shot 15 for 47 in the first half. It went 0 for 12 from three. Only one player shot better than 50 percent from the field – and that was Tristan Thompson, who went 3 for 5.
The Cavaliers simply aren’t good enough defensively to make up for a bad shooting game, especially against a good team like the Celtics. So while Cleveland was clanging shots – many of them decent looks – all over the place – Boston was slicing the Cavaliers’ defense to the tune of 58.5 percent shooting overall and going 5 for 12 from three.
That’s how the Cavaliers finds themselves down 61-35 at halftime, with what will be a long 48 hours between Games 1 and 2 to attempt to figure out how to slow Boston down – and perhaps to remind themselves to hit a few shots, as well.
The Cleveland Cavaliers have had one of the NBA’s worst defenses all season long.
It is on display in Game 1 against the Celtics.
The first half of this opener to the Eastern Conference finals has been nothing but a layup line so far for Boston, with a few threes for the Celtics mixed in.
The result? Boston holds a 58-33 lead late in the second quarter, and it looks like Cleveland might need to start thinking about what to do in Game 2.
Kevin Love’s early foul trouble caused Cavaliers Coach Tyronn Lue to shuffle his usual rotation.
LeBron James has been having success anchoring the second unit at the start of second quarters recently. But with Love heading to the bench early in the first because of two quick fouls (and perhaps combined with Cleveland falling behind by 21 points in the first), James played the whole quarter, with Love featuring in the second quarter instead.
Cleveland has slowly been able to claw back into the game, but has a long way to go to make it competitive again.
It didn’t take long for the Celtics to turn this game on its head.
Boston broke the game open with a 25-2 run that stretched more than six minutes, eventually finishing the quarter outscoring Cleveland 32-11 over the final 9:18 to take a 36-18 lead after one.
The Celtics went 14 for 22 from the field in the first quarter, with seven of Boston’s eight players who saw time in the first scoring — led by Al Horford’s 11 points on a perfect 4 for 4 showing from the field.
For most of the first quarter, those 11 points outscored Cleveland’s entire team, as the Cavaliers eventually trailed by as many as 21 thanks to Boston’s explosion. A late flurry improved Cleveland’s outlook slightly, but the Cavaliers started the game 3 for 16 from the floor, including 0 for 5 from three, to dig themselves into a giant hole.
Several of those missed shots early in the game were open looks, too. Meanwhile, Boston began working Cleveland’s defense – which has been a weak spot all year – with great results.
There has been plenty of talk about how the Boston Celtics are going to try to stop LeBron James in the Eastern Conference finals. Celtics Coach Brad Stevens altered his starting lineup for Game 1 by replacing Aron Baynes with Marcus Morris.
But if Boston wants to beat Cleveland, and advance to the NBA Finals for the first time in eight years (which was the last time James lost to anyone in the East, by the way), the focus should not be on stopping James. Instead, it should be on neutralizing Kevin Love.
Just take a look at how the first two rounds of the playoffs have shaken out for Cleveland. Against the Indiana Pacers in the first round, Love was all over the place. He never scored more than 19 points – and scored in single-digits three times – while shooting 33 percent from the field and taking 14 free throws over the course of the entire series (six of which came in Game 4). Not coincidentally, the Pacers forced that series to go seven games, and gave Cleveland all it could handle.
Compare that to how Love played against the Toronto Raptors in the Eastern Conference semifinals. He had a rough Game 1, scoring seven points and taking no free throws in Cleveland’s overtime win. But in Games 2, 3 and 4? Love scored 31, 21 and 23 points, took a combined 20 free throws (going 18-for-20) and shot 47.5 percent from the field. Again, not coincidentally, the Raptors were swept out of the playoffs by Cleveland for a second straight season.
The difference between the Indiana and Toronto series, in a nutshell, was that James was a solo act against the Pacers and part of an ensemble against the Raptors. When Cleveland’s “others” are cooking, and knocking down shots from the perimeter, the Cavaliers go from being a very good offense to an unstoppable one – only on par with the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets in terms of their ability to score in bunches.
Love is, by far, the most talented of Cleveland’s supporting cast, a deserving all-star and versatile offensive weapon who can score from the post to the three-point line. Boston needs to do whatever it can not to stop James, but to make Love play closer to how he did against Indiana than how he tore up Toronto.
If the Celtics can succeed, they have a chance to make this series competitive. If not? It will be time to start preparing to travel to Cleveland for the fourth straight time in June.
- Cleveland Cavaliers at Boston Celtics, 3:30 p.m. (ABC)
Hop into the comments section below to chat with The Post’s Tim Bontemps about all of your NBA questions.