Cavs' Big 3 Get Best of C's in Game 1
CLEVELAND - The Cavs’ Big Three all came up big in Game 1 Sunday afternoon, and they eventually imposed their will on the Celtics.
Despite unfavorable matchups at several positions, the Celtics stayed step-for-step with the Cavaliers in the early goings. But after building a first-quarter lead and going ahead by as many as eight points during the second quarter, the Celtics started slipping when they failed to control the glass at the defensive end, illustrated by a 10-1 offensive rebounding deficit at halftime.
The C’s also fell victim to a shooting display from Kyrie Irving that Brad Stevens characterized as “superhuman.” Irving dropped 30 points on the night, but had 20 of those during the first half, and 12 came on a 4-for-4 second-quarter performance from behind the arc. Two of his 3s were especially back-breaking, with one coming from deep in the left corner despite great defense from Isaiah Thomas, and another at the halftime horn.
“I thought we found him when we needed to and we gave him the space to play,” Cleveland Cavaliers coach David Blatt said. “Listen, he’s a tough guy to guard, and he has the ability to create his own shot and create for others. No big secret, but that’s the way it works.”
The Celtics came out firing during the first half, and traded punches with the Cavs in the early going. Kelly Olynyk's performance was especially surprising, as his 10 points in 6:37 of playing time during the first quarter led all scorers. Olynyk was perfect from the field, dropping in a pair of 3s and throwing down perhaps the most aggressive dunk of his career. But Olynyk scored only two more points the rest of the night.
The C’s dug themselves a 20-point hole during the third quarter, and despite battling back to within six points, they never really threatened the Cavaliers again. Kevin Love, who was just 2-for-11 from the field during the first half, came alive during the second half. Love did work on the glass and drew a pair of charges to make his presence felt in his first career playoff game. Love wrapped up with 19 points and 12 rebounds.
LeBron James had a strong game but never really overwhelmed the Celtics as he’s been known to do to his opponents. Still, Cleveland’s top three players combined for 69 points and just their presence together on the floor is a challenge to contend with.
Cleveland’s impressive ball movement had the Celtics’ defense scrambling most of the night to run shooters off the 3-point line. Despite some impressive defensive rotations, the Cavs knocked down 13 of 31 3-pointers on the night. Cleveland's long-range shooting, coupled with rotations that left guards in the paint while Boston’s bigs ended up on the perimeter, cost the Celtics on the glass.
“I thought we did as good of a job on LeBron as we could have done, but I think that those rotations, sometimes you leave Tristan Thompson and you have to rotate to block out,” Stevens said. “We have to rotate to challenge shooters, we have to rotate to be there. Obviously the offensive rebounds and getting outscored at the 3-point line are two huge things.”
One small thing – literally – the Celtics can point to was Isaiah Thomas, whose speed and willingness to attack the paint has proved to be a game-changer for the Celtics. Thomas finished with 22 points, but he sat at the postgame press conference podium frustrated by his team’s turnovers and their opponent’s clutch shooting, specifically Irving’s, after defensive possessions that bottled up the Cavs for 23 seconds.
“He’s one of the guys who takes tough shots and makes tough shots,” Thomas said of Irving. “There’s times we were right in his face, end of the shot clock, and he buries a 3. That’s just his game and we’ve got to try to take those away from him and turn him into a playmaker and not so much of a scorer.
“He’s a hell of a player and we’ve got to slow him down to win this series.”
Stevens told the media afterward that he was happy with the offense during the first half and the team’s defense during the second half. But he knows the Celtics need to be at their best for an entire 48-minute game to beat James, Irving and Love.
“I thought we got stagnant on a number of different possessions, right before they went up 20 on that run, and right after we cut it to six, we got too stagnant,” Stevens said. “We’ve got to keep that ball moving. Their length and athleticism is just too much if we let it load up on a lack of movement.”
The Celtics will have Monday to correct Sunday’s mistakes, but Thomas says the Celtics can’t dwell too long on Game 1.
“Good or bad, you have to have a short memory,” Thomas said. “There could be possibly seven games in this series and it could go either way.”