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WALTHAM, Mass. – On paper, the Boston Celtics currently have a 1-0 lead over the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Finals. But in the minds of Boston’s players and coaches, the series is still tied, 0-0.
The C’s opened up the series Sunday afternoon by beating the Cavs in blowout fashion, but after the game, they mentally hit the reset button. They didn’t want the 25-point win to get to their heads, because they knew LeBron James and Co. would be ready to respond in Game 2.
Therefore, the Celtics are approaching Tuesday’s rematch as its own entity.
Al Horford said Tuesday morning ahead of shootaround that the key heading into Game 2 is, “Just understanding that this is another challenge. You don’t win a series in one game. It was just one game. Part of our growth as a group is to come out and have a strong performance tonight.”
Just because the Celtics greatly outperformed the Cavs Sunday afternoon certainly does not mean that they will do the same Tuesday night.
Boston learned that the hard way during their most recent series. It blew out Philadelphia by 16 points during the second-round-opener, but Philly responded in Game 2 and nearly came away with a bounce-back win.
“We played great in Game 1, and then they came out and just jumped on us [in Game 2],” Stevens recalled of the Eastern Conference Semifinals. “I thought that we weren’t as aggressive. I thought they set the tone. I thought they got their hands on a lot of balls. On offense we were settling, and on defense we were passive. That just won’t cut it tonight.”
In order to avoid surrendering a bounce-back win, the C’s need to be able to limit Cleveland’s runs. The Cavs have proven during past rounds that they can take the opposition out of the contest early with an explosive stretch, so Boston must be prepared to handle such a situation.
“You can’t have those lulls,” said Stevens. “I’ve always thought against these guys that if it’s a 10-0 run or a 12-0 run, you’re in trouble. You’ve gotta make it 8-3, 10-5 – you’ve gotta manage those times when they’re going on their runs.”
The Celtics also have to be prepared for a bounce-back individual performance from James. He had his worst outing of the postseason during Game 1, scoring just 15 points on the afternoon, but Boston knows better than to expect a repeat effort Tuesday night.
“You could go through the career of every great player ever – they always respond,” said Stevens. “They always are anxious to respond, they’re always ready to respond.”
With that being said, the C’s can’t let the anticipation of a bounce-back game from James and the Cavs allow them to lose sight of their own game plan.
“We have to focus on what we do best, realize that you’re going to get that punch, that you’re going to get that hit by LeBron and the rest of those guys,” said Stevens. “So, you have to make it as hard as possible on him and guard the other guys well.”
The C’s certainly made it hard on James and his supporting cast during Game 1, but that frankly means nothing to Boston’s players and coaching staff heading into Game 2.
“We can’t really dwell on what happened in Game 1 or any of the games in the Playoffs,” Horford reiterated. “This is its own game, we have to really come out with that edge that we’ve been playing with. And I don’t expect anything different from our group tonight.”