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Cavs acknowledge Celtics defenders are making it hard on LeBron James, other players

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The focus has been on guard play, but the Cavs are also going to need more from their frontcourt too.

NBA: Playoffs-Cleveland Cavaliers at Boston Celtics Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

There’s been plenty of talk about the need for the Cavs’ backcourt to match Boston’s, and it’s certainly a valid concern. In Game 2, the duo of J.R. Smith and George Hill were outscored by Boston’s starting backcourt of Jaylen Brown and Terry Rozier 41-3.

And while the damage the Celtics guards are doing to the Cavs is undeniable, the Cavs have had more than their fair share of issues with the Boston frontcourt, which plays a large part in “gooning up” the game as Cavs head coach Tyronn Lue would say.

In Game 1, Al Horford, Marcus Morris and Jayson Tatum put up a combined 57 points. In Game 2, that number dropped to just 38, but their bigger impact has arguably been on the defensive end.

The Celitcs have the benefit of all of their starters being roughly the same size, making switching easier, as well as swarming LeBron James in the post. Lue acknowledged that that has made it harder to get James good looks down low.

“I mean they’re putting bigger defenders on him,” he said after Friday’s practice. “I think when they switch, you either got Horford, Tatum, Brown and Morris. So they’re putting bigger guys on him, bigger defenders, putting two bodies on him when he is posting up to make it appear crowded. They have bigger defenders and stronger defenders guarding him.”

That defense in the post goes along with the physicality the Cavs have had to endure throughout the series. That, combined with the Celtics’ intensity, has put Boston in good positions throughout the first two games of the series.

“Each game in the playoffs is so different, and you never know how it’s going to be officiated,” Kevin Love said on Friday. “But I think just their intensity has been very high. Not to say ours hasn’t been, but they use their crowd to their advantage, they play physical basketball, and are able to get to a lot of possessions.”

The defensive scheme and how the Celtics are guarding James and Love specifically didn’t stop them from having good individual offensive nights in Game 2, it did stop their role players and shooters from doing much of anything. With Boston’s strong double teams and rotations, the Cavs shooters aren’t getting as many open looks as they were in the Toronto series.

“Everything maybe appears kind of open, but there’s nothing that’s wide open for us,” Kyle Korver acknowledged. “They’re playing really hard. They’re only giving us one chance. They’re just playing really solid and we’ve been too up and down on the other end.”

Combine that with the extra physicality, and it’s no wonder that the Celtics have come away with two victories. But despite a 2-0 hole, the Cavs say they aren’t intimidated by the physicality up until this point. They’re going to need every ounce of that confidence if they will have any hope of evening the series at two games apiece.

“They can’t get under my skin,” Tristan Thompson said on Thursday. “It’s just basketball. But they’re playing hard and chippy and I love that. I love that. I think the city of Boston loves players like that, that emulate their city and Cleveland is the same way. We got some chippy players like myself and that’s what this city is about.”