The Celtics just keep on coming. And because of it, the Cavaliers are in trouble.
Despite a 40-point triple-double from LeBron James, Boston pulled away in the second half to claim a 107-94 victory over Cleveland in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals, giving Boston a 2-0 lead in the series.
For the next four days, the talk will focus almost exclusively on what is next for James, as the Cavaliers head back to Cleveland to sit until Game 3 on Saturday wondering whether they can get back into this series after having a double-digit lead late in the first half — powered by 21 points in the first quarter from James — fall apart after halftime.
Only three Cleveland players scored in double figures — and one of them, Kyle Korver, scored all 11 of his points in the first half, as the younger, deeper and more athletic Celtics wore down the Cavaliers over the course of the game.
Kevin Love had 22 points and 15 rebounds for Cleveland, to go along with the 42 points, 10 rebounds and 12 assists for James. The rest of the Cavaliers combined to go for 30 points on 12-for-33 shooting — including 3 for 14 from three.
Remove Korver from that equation, though, and the numbers are truly terrible: 19 points on 8-for-25 shooting, including 1 for 9 from three.
The Cavaliers needed a Herculean effort from James to win this game. They got one and still didn’t.
That’s a credit to Boston, which had six players in double figures — led by 23 points from Jaylen Brown. And while Marcus Smart only shot 3 for 9, he finished with 11 points, five rebounds and nine assists in 31 minutes while making countless winning plays.
Smart’s hustle was in stark contrast to the Cavaliers, who looked robotic at times as the game slipped away from them in the second half. The one bit of life Cleveland had late came in the fourth quarter when J.R. Smith shoved Al Horford when he was in the air and nearly got into a fight with Smart.
So now Cleveland will sit for four days, with the world wondering if its season is over — and what that might mean for James. The Cavaliers didn’t move up in the NBA draft lottery earlier Tuesday, meaning they have the eighth pick in next month’s NBA draft.
Whether that pick will be made by Cleveland, or whether whoever is picked with it will play with James, remains to be seen. For now, the Cavaliers have bigger problems to deal with.
Tuesday’s loss in Boston made sure of that.
Live in-game updates:
The Celtics are winning this game because of Marcus Smart.
Smart is just 3 for 9 from the field, but has 11 points, five rebounds, eight assists and what feels like a dozen hustle plays that have resulted in Celtics baskets.
The amount of effort Smart puts into every possession looks even crazier than normal when compared to the robotic way with which the Cavaliers are currently playing.
And yet the Cavaliers is still within six with four minutes to go because they have LeBron James. They’ll need something special from him to win this, though.
The Celtics turned this game on its head in the third quarter.
Outscoring Cleveland 36-22 in the third, Boston took a seven point halftime deficit and turned it into an 84-77 lead after three. LeBron James has 32 points, five rebounds and 10 assists, but has only scored 11 points since his 21-point explosion in the first quarter.
Kevin Love has added 20 points for Cleveland, which starts the fourth quarter with James on the bench. Boston’s youth and athleticism has begun to play a part as the game has progressed, and Cleveland appears to be beginning to wear down.
Here come the Boston Celtics.
A Marcus Smart three-pointer and a Terry Rozier fastbreak slam has moved the Celtics into the lead at 74-71 midway through the third quarter, pulling the Celtics all the way back from a double-digit first half deficit.
Boston has yet to lose at home in these playoffs, with an 8-0 record so far, and the crowd is helping power this young team back into this game.
After the Cavaliers were routed in Game 1, there were doubts about whether Cleveland could hang with the Celtics. Those doubts have been answered with the way the Cavaliers have played in the first half of Game 2.
Behind a stellar effort from LeBron James, who has 25 points, four rebounds and five assists already, Cleveland goes into the break with a 55-48 halftime lead and is 24 minutes away from tying this series at a game apiece.
The Cavaliers shot 51.2 percent overall, including going 7 for 14 from three – after going just 4 for 26 in all of Game 1. Cleveland arguably should be up by even more, given it went 6 for 12 from the free throw line – including James himself going 3 for 8 – and has committed seven turnovers that became seven Boston points.
Jaylen Brown has continued his breakout postseason with 16 first half points for Boston, while Jayson Tatum had nine points in one second quarter burst, but otherwise has struggled. Cleveland has also benefited from Kyle Korver shifting to the bench, where he has 11 points on 4-for-5 shooting, including knocking down both of his threes.
The Cavaliers are outscoring the Celtics 14-8 in bench points, powered by Korver’s production.
Cleveland, as expected, is playing with much better energy in this game, with the specter of going down 0-2 to Boston hanging over the Cavaliers with another loss. The insertion of Tristan Thompson into the starting lineup, along with playing Larry Nance instead of Jordan Clarkson, has given Cleveland better energy and defensive effort, and it’s translated to how the Cavaliers have played.
LeBron James went to the locker room after taking a shoulder from Jayson Tatum square to his jaw while driving on the baseline. He returned soon after and checked back into the game, however.
Before exiting, James took both free throws, making one of them, and then Cleveland immediately fouled so he could go to the locker room. He headed there without hesitation.
ESPN’s Doris Burke says LeBron James suffered a neck strain on that play, according to Cavaliers General Manager Koby Altman, and that there are no fears about him having a concussion.
Celtics rookie Jayson Tatum continues to impress – and not play like a rookie.
Tatum now has nine points in a row for Boston, bouncing back after going scoreless in the first quarter. He’s done it on a variety of jumpers, further validating why he looks like a long-term star in the league. On a team with both Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward sidelined with injuries, Tatum needs to deliver this kind of scoring punch for Boston to hang around with Cleveland.
He’s done that in the second quarter of Game 2, which is allowing Boston to maintain contact.
It’s funny how much different things can look when LeBron James is engaged.
The Cleveland Cavaliers gave up a 25-2 run in the first quarter of Game 1. They finished the first quarter of Game 2 leading 27-23. James was obviously the story, scoring 21 of those points himself, but the Cavaliers looked far more locked in as a group than they did in Game 1, when they missed 11 of 12 uncontested threes and were run out of Boston’s TD Garden.
A couple of rotation changes in the second quarter for Cleveland: Larry Nance, Jr. is back in the rotation thanks to Tristan Thompson moving back into the starting lineup, and George Hill has yet to come out of the game – which means Jordan Clarkson (who, remember, LeBron James “mistakenly” called Jordan Crawford after Game 1, remains stuck to the bench).
LeBron James was seen — by many, many media members in Boston at shootaround Tuesday morning — taking shots after a rough shooting performance in Game 1 that saw him go 5 for 16 overall and 0 for 5 from three. It was the kind of moment that indicated James knew the gravity of the situation and the need for Cleveland to even this series in Game 2.
He’s come out like a man possessed to start the game.
Though James has struggled from the free throw line, where he’s currently 1 for 4, he’s been excellent everywhere else, going 5 for 6 overall and 3 for 4 from three – including one long triple that hit the front of the rim, popped up in the air and dropped through the hoop.
That’s 14 quick points in seven minutes in a game Cleveland leads 20-13 midway through the first quarter.
The Cavaliers got blown out from the jump in Game 1 by the Celtics.
Things are going to be a little different in Game 2.
Behind two quick threes from LeBron James – after Cleveland went 4 for 26 in all of Game 1 – the Cavaliers have taken an early 12-10 lead.
The switch of Tristan Thompson coming into the starting lineup has already seen him grab three rebounds, including two offensive boards, while James has a quick eight points after scoring 15 on 5-for-16 shooting in Game 1.
All indications are that the Cavaliers will start Tristan Thompson at center in Game 2 against the Celtics. But what will it actually do?
Thompson has succeeded against Al Horford in the past. And given how Horford has arguably been the MVP of these playoffs so far, slowing him down will obviously help Cleveland’s chances of evening this series at a game apiece tonight. But even more than slowing down Horford, this feels like a move designed to get more out of Kevin Love.
Not only did Love struggle to guard Horford in Game 1, but he also struggled to get going offensively, finishing 5 for 16 from the floor. Yes, LeBron James had an uncharacteristically bad game in Game 1, but for Cleveland to win this series it needs Love to be the player he was against Toronto, when he scored over 20 points the final three games, instead of the one he was against Indiana, when he had multiple single-digit games.
Matching Love up with Aron Baynes or Marcus Morris offensively should allow him more opportunities to get going and offer him easier matchups defensively.
We’ll see if it is successful. But after Cleveland’s lackluster Game 1, it’s a gamble worth pursuing.
Cleveland Cavaliers at Boston Celtics, 8:30 p.m., ESPN(Boston leads 1-0)
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