Well, that was a little easier than expected. The Cavaliers absolutely handled the Celtics in a 117-103 victory that looked a lot closer than it was due to a garbage time push that got the margin as close as 10 for Boston.
Let’s take a look at what we learned.
There is no “LeBron Stopper” in Boston
Well, of course, none really exists, but Boston especially doesn’t have one. LeBron was able to get to the rim with impunity and didn’t really even need a screen to blow by almost every single defender the Celtics threw on him.
Jae Crowder picked up five fouls while not really even slowing James down, and the problem is compounded whenever he sits. Jaylen Brown was fine on James, but it’s fair to wonder if he would be exposed over the course of a larger workload.
Boston’s problem here is that they don’t have any big wings other than Crowder. Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley and Marcus Smart all play about 30 minutes per game and that arrangement often leaves a 6’3” player at the three. That might fly against some teams, but not against LeBron. To make matters worse, the Celtics can’t really downshift by putting Crowder at the four, because that leaves them even more thin at the wing and vulnerable to Kevin Love post-ups.
Basically, the Celtics roster construction could really use the addition of somebody like Gordon Hayward and Jimmy Butler or Paul George. Luckily for them, they have the ammo to pull that off this summer.
The Cavaliers did exactly what we expected against Isaiah Thomas
Isaiah has been electric throughout the regular season and postseason, but he was downright pedestrian against the Cavaliers in Game 1, putting up 17 points on 7-19 shooting. Thomas finished with 10 assists as a result of the hard blitzing pick and roll coverage the Cavaliers have employed so far in these playoffs.
The Celtics just aren’t as dangerous if you can get the ball out of Thomas’ hands, and part of the reason the Wizards lost was that they could neither limit Thomas nor keep him from finding open shooters. The Cavaliers are happy to yield the latter as long as Thomas has nights like this, just as they were with DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry in Round 2.
On the other end of the floor, Thomas was completely exposed. The Celtics tried to hide him on either J.R. Smith or Kyle Korver, and whenever the Cavaliers employed them as screeners for LeBron, it either generated an open runway to the hoop or a wide open three. This is a problem I’m not sure the Celtics can solve, and the way to even it out will have to happen on the other side of the court.
Tristan Thompson still takes residence in Al Horford’s nightmares
Going into this series, Al Horford had traditionally been pretty much destroyed by Tristan Thompson.
That, uh, didn’t change tonight. Thompson grabbed six offensive boards, didn’t miss a shot from the field while going 7-7 from the field and 6-10 from the free throw line en route to 20 points.
Horford, for his part, went 4-11, scored 11 points and only had five rebounds in the competitive portion of the game (he finished with eight). Horford still had some success as a passer, finishing with six assists, but he was mostly a non-factor in this game.
Thompson is just a perfect foil for Horford’s game, and he just cannot generate any offense against the Cavaliers center. Horford is now 0-9 against the Cavaliers in the last three years in the playoffs, and Thompson is a huge part of that.