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The Cavaliers have been here before. After a painless sweep of the Raptors, the Wine & Gold got back in the grinder on Sunday afternoon in Boston – facing a physical Celtics squad that struck early and coasted to the Game 1 victory.
After Cleveland took an early lead, Boston went on a 14-0 first quarter run that put the Cavaliers in an early hole they never worked their way out of. On the afternoon, three Celtics topped the 20-point plateau and Boston shot 51 percent as a team while the Cavaliers missed their first 14 three-point attempts and shot just 36 percent from the floor overall.
After the game, LeBron James voiced almost no level of concern – and history backs him up.
The Cavaliers have gone 16-3 in Game Twos of any series since 2009 (25-19 all-time) – including their First Round win over the Pacers. Cleveland is also 8-2 in their last 10 postseason contests against the Celtics, including a 5-1 mark on the road.
Last year, Cleveland clobbered the Celtics on the parquet floor in three straight games – dropping them by an average of 30.0 points per.
But both teams are vastly different these days and even without the services of Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward, they have proven their postseason mettle through the first two rounds.
Coach Tyronn Lue has toyed with lineups for the majority of the regular season, and that trend has continued into the Playoffs. Before Monday’s practice, Lue hinted at making another one for Game 2.
On Sunday afternoon, Al Horford – as he has throughout the postseason for Boston – led the way, canning his first four shots as the Celtics opened up an 18-point edge after one quarter. The five-time All-Star barely slowed down from there – finishing with 20 points, going 8-of-10 from the floor, including 2-of-4 from beyond the arc, adding six assists, four boards and a pair of blocked shots.
Kevin Love led the Cavaliers with 17 points and eight boards, but he had his hands full with Horford all day and it seemed to affect him on the offensive end, going just 5-for-14 from the floor, including 1-of-4 from deep.
Horford has upped his regular season averages across the board in the postseason, and there’s a chance the Cavaliers could turn to Tristan Thompson to slow him down.
Thompson brought some much-needed energy to the affair on Sunday – finishing with eight points and a game-high 11 boards in the loss.
The seventh-year big man has been in this role before. He was outstanding in Game 7 against the Pacers and provided a big lift for Cleveland in Game 1 of the Toronto series – coming off the bench to flummox Jonas Valanciunas while doubling-up with 14 points and 12 boards.
LeBron James has tormented the Celtics at TD Garden in the postseason over the course of his illustrious career, but Sunday’s outing definitely wasn’t one of those occasions.
Numeral 23 is still leading the 2018 Playoffs, with a 32.7 ppg scoring average, but he ran into Brad Stevens’ stingy defense on Sunday – finishing with just 15 points on 5-for-16 shooting, leading both teams with nine assists to go with seven boards. On the negative side of the ledger, LeBron also racked up seven of Cleveland’s 10 turnovers in the loss.
Historically speaking, James has now piled up 994 postseason points against the Celtics in 35 career meetings and on Tuesday night will become the only player in NBA history to score 1,000 postseason points against any single opponent.
He’ll have to work for it, facing off against a host of Celtics – primarily Marcus Morris, who put his money where his mouth is on Sunday afternoon – keeping the King under control while leading both teams with 21 points, going 7-for-12 from the floor, including 3-of-4 from beyond the arc and grabbing a team-high 10 boards in the win.
The Playoffs are about matchups and adjustments and both squads are expecting a bounce-back game from James.
In the deciding Game 4 against Toronto in the Eastern Conference Semis, Cleveland’s top long-range marksmen were locked in – with Kyle Korver and JR Smith combining to go 12-of-14 from the floor, including 7-of-8 from beyond the arc. But that wasn’t the case on Sunday’s series opener, when they combined for just nine points in the loss.
In Game 1, Swish finished with four points, going 2-of-9 from the floor and taking the collar on three long-distance attempts. Korver struggled just as badly, going 2-for-6 from the floor, 1-of-5 from three-point range and adding five boards and a blocked shot.
Boston isn’t known as a three-point shooting squad, but four of their starters combined to go 10-for-18 from downtown (while Terry Rozier and Marcus Smart were just a combined 1-for-8).
As LeBron stated after the loss, the three-point shot is deeply ingrained in Cleveland’s DNA, and going an entire half without hitting a triple usually spells trouble for the Wine & Gold.
If the Celtics are going to dominate the Cavaliers down low as they did on Sunday – outscoring Cleveland in the paint, 60-38, Ty Lue’s squad will need to make them pay from long-distance on the other end.
Both Smith and Korver have been good after struggling early in this postseason tournament, and the Wine & Gold will need them to rediscover their stroke if they hope to steal a game in Beantown.
The Cavaliers featured only four players in double-figures in Sunday’s loss – and two of them, Jordan Clarkson and Rodney Hood, did so off the bench.
Both players had solid outings against the Celtics in their Cavaliers’ debut back on February 11, but even after notching double-figures on Sunday, Boston made them work for it; Hood went 5-of-12 for the game, Clarkson went 4-for-11.
Throughout the 2018 Playoffs, Cleveland’s most dependable reserve has been Jeff Green, but the 11th-year man from Georgetown (and former Celtic) struggled on Sunday, going 1-for-3 from the floor and finishing with six points in just under 20 minutes of action.
Tristan Thompson was effective off the bench in Game 1, but odds are good that he’ll be among the starting five on Tuesday night.
Boston doesn’t dig deep into its bench and, aside from some garbage time minutes, that was the case again on Sunday. Marcus Smart didn’t shoot the ball well, but as usual, played a solid two-way floor game – handing out six assists and grabbing three boards to go with his nine points.
Aron Baynes, who started four of the five games against Philly, returned to the bench for Game 1, netting eight boards, two assists, two steals and a block.