It was always going to be an uphill battle for Boston in this series, and Game 1 confirmed that.
The Cavaliers absolutely wrecked the Celtics 117-104 in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals in a game that was never particularly close despite a big push from Boston to cut the lead to 17 points heading into the fourth quarter.
Cleveland, who had trouble closing all season had no such problems against Boston, ratcheting the defense up in the fourth and depending on even more dominance from LeBron James to seal the win.
If the Celts were going to win, they were going to have to do a few things. They were going to have to keep Tristan Thompson off the offensive boards (he had six), they were going to have to turn the Cavaliers over (the Cavaliers only had eight turnovers), and they were going to have to shoot the cover off the ball from distance (they went 12-38 and started 2-16).
If the Celtics can’t do any of these things, it’s hard to envision a chance for them in this series. And that’s not to mention LeBron James.
James went off for 38 points, nine rebounds and seven assists in a game he was never taken out of his comfort zone. His outside jumper wasn’t going and it absolutely didn’t matter. Jae Crowder may look the part of a perimeter stopper, but his value comes as a team defender. If it wasn’t Crowder, the Cavaliers stuck guys like Marcus Smart, Gerald Green or even Al Horford on LeBron and he torched them all.
I’ve mentioned it before, but this was LeBron’s 9th game since April 10. He is as rested as we’ve seen him in a long time, and it’s alarming how quick his first step is right now. Boston has nobody for him, and that problem isn’t going away.
Also problematic was the fact that Kevin Love absolutely lit the Celtics up. He put up 32 points on 16 field goal attempts while completely locking down the glass with 11 defensive boards, and when he’s hitting six threes, the Cavaliers are really hard to beat. To make matters worse, the Celts were far too eager to switch guards onto Love in the post, who he promptly roasted.
Marcus Smart was probably the most noteworthy Celtic for his ability to make the game chippy. That’s probably what the Celts need to do, and his energy did fuel a run in the third, but he fouled out with nine minutes left in the fourth with only 21 minutes played. He has to find a way to balance that while also drawing some pretty ridiculous defensive tasks.
Al Horford had really picked up his postseason play against the Wizards, but man, was he not enough tonight. He put up 11 points and snagged a few late rebounds once the game was decided to pull in eight boards, but Tristan Thompson took his lunch money with 20 points and nine boards, just like he has over the course of the last two postseasons. It’s an awful matchup for Horford, and it’s fair to wonder if Boston will regret this contract due to how poorly he matches up with the Cavaliers.
The Celts looked completely overmatched, and for neutral fans of the game, it’s a bummer in what some expected could at least be a competitive start to the series in Boston.
Brad Stevens now has some tape to adjust to, but there are certain realities he just won’t be able to scheme out. We all knew this could be a short series, and Game 1 did nothing to dissuade from the idea.
If anybody needs a visual of LeBron James vs the Eastern Conference, its this. pic.twitter.com/FuUKoTt0SZ— Andrew Hammond (@ahammsportsgeek) May 18, 2017
Game 2 in Boston tips off on Friday at 7:30 p.m.