C’s Weather James’ Bounce-Back Storm, Take 2-0 Series Lead
BOSTON – Celtics coach Brad Stevens stated before Game 2 that great players “always respond.”
He was referring to his expectation that LeBron James, coming off of a postseason-low 15-point performance during Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals, would bounce back Tuesday night with a monster Game-2 effort.
It turned out that Stevens’ prediction was right. Cleveland's superstar responded to his quiet Game 1 effort with an incredible, 42-point, 12 assist, 10-rebound performance.
But Boston answered right back – as a team – and that was enough to overshadow James’ mighty individual effort, as it came away with a 107-94 win at TD Garden to earn a 2-0 lead in the series.
James came out like a man on a mission Tuesday night, dropping 21 points during the first quarter alone. However, Boston never let him take full control of the game, as they answered to just about every one of his blows.
"The most encouraging thing to me was that we weathered that storm,” C’s coach Brad Stevens said of James’ initial outpour, “because it's easy to kind of fall apart there.”
Most teams do fall apart when James goes off like that at the beginning of a game, but Boston didn’t lose its cool.
“We kept our poise and just kept playing our basketball the way that we've been playing,” said Al Horford, who tallied 15 points, 10 rebounds, four assists, two steals and two blocks. “Tough on defense, moving the ball on offense, and that's just the way that we tried to play throughout the whole game.”
By staying poised, the Celtics never fell behind the Cavaliers by more than 11 points. That’s quite remarkable considering the way that James erupted out of the gate.
The key for Boston was to just keep grinding away, no matter how many points the 14-time All-Star put up on the scoreboard.
“I think the biggest thing is we were just trying to make it as hard as possible,” said Stevens. “And I think that we all have a good grasp that that's not always going to work. So, don't hang your head; go down and score. And then if you can make it as hard as possible for as long as possible, maybe you can get somewhere.”
The Celtics finally did get somewhere after halftime. They entered the third quarter facing a seven-point deficit, but Terry Rozier’s 14-point frame helped the Celtics reverse the deficit to seven points in their favor by the start of the fourth.
From there, Boston expanded its lead by as many as 15 points, before walking away with its second convincing win in as many games.
One thing that helped the Celtics pull away was that they were able to limit James to 17 points during the second half. That's a commendable feat considering the way he opened up the game.
"We’ve got a lot of different guys guarding him," Stevens said of the adjustments Boston made on James. "Jaylen (Brown) started the game on him, (Marcus) Morris was guarding him a ton. I thought Semi [Ojeleye] did a good job on the couple of possessions he guarded him, which is really hard to just come off the bench not in the flow of the game and put a body in front of him. But [James] is unbelievable.”
The Celtics, however, were more unbelievable as an team. They anticipated James’ bounce-back performance and they weathered his early storm together.
“We knew coming into this game that he was going to come out and give everything he had and he was going to have a game like this,” said Marcus Smart, who notched 11 points, nine assists, five rebounds and four steals. “Our job was to just keep going, make it tough on him all night. Eventually those shots he was hitting in the first half, in the second half stopped falling. It took a full team effort, everybody off the bench, and guys we just kept sending at him.”
While it was affirmed that great players like James always seem to respond after a tough outing, the Celtics proved an even more important point Tuesday night – that great teams answer right back.