5/15 Game 2 Preview: Cavaliers at Celtics
BOSTON -- LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers know they have to be better in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals on Tuesday night at TD Garden.
The Boston Celtics appear ready for just that.
"I thought our guys played with a good aggression tonight. Going to have to play better Tuesday," Celtics coach Brad Stevens said after the 108-83 rout in the series opener -- a game blown open in the first quarter.
"I have zero level of concern at this stage," James said after the Celtics blew the Cavs out in the opening game -- a rare poor playoff outing for James. "I didn't go to college, so it's not March Madness."
Translation: one win does not a series make.
The Celtics, who keep handling every situation thrown at them regardless of who might be available to play, know what they are likely to be up against in Game 2.
Boston is 8-0 at home in these playoffs.
Before Sunday's game, a video on the big board highlighted "experts" doubting these Celtics in the postseason. After all, there's no Kyrie Irving or Gordon Hayward, with valuable rookie bench center Daniel Theis also gone.
"I would say it has (driven them)," said Marcus Morris, one of the guys who made life miserable for James in Game 1. "It gave other guys opportunity to step up. It's very unfortunate that we had those injuries, but no one is going to feel sorry for us at the end of the day, so we have to take our approach of next guy up.
"That's what we've been doing all season."
If you need evidence of Boston's team effort leading to the 9-4 playoff record, here it is: Jayson Tatum leads the team at 18.6 points per game, but Jaylen Brown and Terry Rozier are both at 17.4, Al Horford at 17.2, Morris 12.9 and Marcus Smart 10.4.
That is balance, meaning they don't have to rely on one or two players -- as Cleveland does with James and Kevin Love.
"We've got to help 'Bron," JR Smith said after the opener. "We can't just expect him to do everything. As role players, we've got to play our role."
James came in averaging 34.3 points, 9.4 rebounds and 9.0 assists per game in the playoffs but was lifted with 7:10 left in the blowout. He was 5 of 16 from the floor and had seven of his team's 10 turnovers in his 15-point game.
The Cavs missed their first 14 3-pointers and finished 4 of 26 from behind the arc.
"Three-point shot is a part of our DNA," James said. "It's what makes us the best team that we can be. I think even early on with the shots that we had, we had some wide-open looks that just didn't go. I think in the first quarter, J.R. and Kev, (George Hill), they had some great looks, they just didn't go.
"We're OK with that. We're absolutely OK with that. And we're going to take those same looks going into Game 2 if the opportunity presents itself."
The Cavaliers, coming off a layoff that followed a four-game sweep of the Toronto Raptors, offered little resistance in the opener. They missed their shots, lost their men on defense and allowed a whopping 60 points in the paint.
"You definitely have to adjust. That's what part of the playoff series is about," James said. "The teams adjusting from game to game and seeing ways you can be better. I think that's an obvious question."
The Celtics have taken 2-0 leads in both of their previous series and, even though they needed seven games to dispose of the Milwaukee Bucks in the first round, they can rely on the franchise being 37-0 all time when taking a 2-0 lead in a series.
But that's history, and this edition of the proud franchise is clearly more about the present.
"I think we're very alert to the fact that we'll get a heavyweight punch on Tuesday night," Stevens said.
Cavs coach Tyronn Lue indicated Monday that he may insert Tristan Thompson into the starting lineup in a bid to neutralize Al Horford, one of several Celtics to dominate in Game 1.
"He's our rock," Stevens said of Horford, who has also averaged 8.3 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 1.1 steals and 1.4 blocks per game in the playoffs. "He's the guy we really, really lean on."
Thompson, who played well and had eight points and 11 rebounds in less than 21 minutes in the opener, issued a bit of a warning on behalf of James, saying, "Usually when LeBron has these kind of games, the next game he does something legendary."