The Boston Celtics hoped for rust. What they got was a defending champion hellbent on destruction.
Yes, the Cleveland Cavaliers bullied Boston in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals on Wednesday, leading by 11 after the first quarter, by 22 at halftime, and winning 117-104.
“It looked like Cleveland was clearly the more rested team and frankly the more ready team,” CSN Celtics insider A. Sherrod Blakely said on CBS Sports Radio’s After Hours with Amy Lawrence. “The Celtics, they just never really could kind of figure out how to give that energy, that effort – all the intangibles they really talk about – and really compete with Cleveland.”
The Celtics missed 11 of their first 14 shots. They cut the deficit to 17 points in the third quarter, but by that point, the outcome had already been decided.
“Yeah, they got back into it, but when you’ve spotted a team 25, 28 points, you’re just swimming upstream with no chance at all of getting to the mainland,” Blakely said. “The Celtics, they certainly have their work cut out for them. The crazy part about Cleveland was that even though they won this game convincingly, there are still two or three levels of which they can play even better. I think that is the scary takeaway if you’re the Boston Celtics.”
Kyrie Irving scored just 11 points for Cleveland, but LeBron James (38) and Kevin Love (32) combined for 70. James is averaging 34.8 points, 9.0 rebounds, and 7.1 assists in the playoffs. He has scored 35+ points in five straight games and shot 13-of-18 (.722) from inside the arc Wednesday.
“It was clear from the very beginning that he came into this game with one thing on his mind – and that was to bury Boston as quickly as possible,” Blakely said. “(He didn’t let them) do anything to get their crowd into the game or anything like that. He just attacked. He was 7-of-8 from the field in the first quarter, and I don’t think he took a shot outside of maybe five feet. You can’t allow LeBron James to have that kind of free rein to the basket. The only thing you can do with a guy that big, that strong, is foul him and put his butt on the line so he doesn’t necessarily see the ball go through the hoop. Yeah, you’re going to get in foul trouble and that certainly isn’t an ideal scenario, but as good as he is, that, in this situation, is your best strategy for him. If he is not shooting jump shots, you got to foul him and put him on the line and make him earn those points.”
Game 2 is Friday in Boston, with Game 3 to follow Sunday in Cleveland. Both games tip off at 8:30 p.m. ET.