Cleveland Cavaliers – 117
Boston Celtics – 104
The Boston Celtics won the top seed in the Eastern Conference to gain home-court advantage in the Conference Finals. On Tuesday night, they won the NBA Draft Lottery. They even won the opening tip to officially begin the series. But, the winning stopped there, as the Cleveland Cavaliers dominated the Celtics, winning 117-104 to take a 1-0 lead in the series and take back home-court advantage, something that the Celtics fought to have over the wine and gold the entire regular season.
My browser history is littered with “synonymous to dominant” every time I try to write one of these recaps, but there are few other words that articulate exactly how great the Cavs been in these playoffs. They didn’t just win this game, they gave the Celtics multiple looks and seemed to find that nearly every single one worked. The lead ballooned to 28 at one point, even as the Cavaliers didn’t make a three-pointer until well into the second quarter. As many of you may have predicted, Iman Shumpert made the team’s first three of the game.
Boston just didn’t have anyone to guard LeBron James, who dominated early and often. James started out looking for favorable matchups, singling out Kelly Olynyk and Al Horford following screens that led to the mismatches, but he was having the same level of success against even better defenders such as Jae Crowder and Jaylen Brown as well.
When the Celtics have Olynyk on the court with Isaiah Thomas, there are just too many options for the Cavaliers to exploit, and No. 23 was happy to do so. James even spent some time at point-center, giving the Celtics fits while surrounded by four shooters all over the court.
James finished with 38 points, nine rebounds, and seven assists, something that he has done quite often since coming to the NBA.
Since LeBron came into the league there have now been 19 total playoff games where a player had at least 37-9-7. LeBron has 15 of them. pic.twitter.com/ZG08dDmzWb
— nick wright (@getnickwright) May 18, 2017
Kevin Love exploded, scoring a new playoff career-high 31 points by going 6-of-9 from three while grabbing 12 rebounds. Similar to the Indiana series when it was Lance Stephenson, the Cavaliers were able to get Love matched up against the smaller Marcus Smart in the post. A matchup Love easily won, even when Smart flopped.
He was also extremely active elsewhere. Love’s defense was solid all night, although he’ll never be someone to challenge shots at the rim, and his rebounding helped the team create more opportunities and limit the Celtics’ second-chance points. He led a bench unit that had both James and Irving on the bench to start the second quarter and was able to actually extend the lead (by one, but still). Love was also able to score some cheap buckets, getting defenders in the air and jumping sideways into them to score three free throws. It will be interesting to see if he continues to get these calls throughout the series. Head coach Tyronn Lue mentioned that Love getting involved inside helps get his three-point shots to drop, and it worked tonight.
Tristan Thompson is a star. We rarely discuss non-scorers as stars, but Thompson is absolutely an elite player. He was incredible all night, with his usual level of defense both switched onto guards and protecting the rim. Thompson was a monster on the offensive glass, giving the Cavaliers second-chance points all night. Most impressively, he was able to show some touch around the rim and find open cutters and shooters when he found himself in space with the ball. This is a newer area of strength for the big man, but it makes him even more valuable. If teams attempt to trap the ball-handlers, Thompson can serve as the outlet to keep the ball moving or attack the rim, similar to what Draymond Green does for Golden State. Like Love, Thompson reached a new career playoff-high in points with 20. We need to start discussing the Cavaliers’ Big 4, as Tristan is every bit as important to this team as Love or Kyrie Irving.
Things got chippy at the end of the third quarter, as Marcus Smart tried to flop and flail his way into some calls. For the most part, it worked, as Boston cut into the Cavs lead and got a few cheap foul calls. The comeback was short-lived, as Cleveland kept their cool and extended their lead back to comfortable territory. You certainly don’t like to see things get chippy, as a cheap injury could be devastating. There were certainly opportunities for that to happen.
Isaiah Thomas swiped at Kevin Love’s ankle after hitting the deck following a free throw.
— Joe Noga (@JoeNogaCLE) May 18, 2017
Kelly Olynyk put Tristan in an arm-lock that was a terrifying reminder of the play that injured Kevin Love in the 2014-2015 playoffs.
In the end, J.R. Smith said it best.
JR Smith telling flopping Celtics to "get your ass up" pic.twitter.com/JJB7MSEyUy
— Scott @ WFNY (@WFNYScott) May 18, 2017
Let’s look behind the score:
9 – Three-point attempts for the Cavaliers at halftime. The Celtics seemed to be making an effort to limit the three point attempts, but it came at the expense of letting the Cavaliers live at the rim.
11 – Points for Al Horford. Tristan Thompson has gotten the best of Horford going back to his days in Atlanta, and it was apparent again in this game. Tristan seems to make Horford uncomfortable, and without a secondary scorer, Boston is in trouble.
12 – Minutes for Richard Jefferson after combining for less than ten total minutes over the last six games combined.
3 – Minutes for Channing Frye on his birthday, after playing over 10 minutes in every playoff game so far this postseason prior to Wednesday night. It appears the Cavaliers are starting to work their Finals rotation into the mix, featuring Jefferson and limiting Frye a bit.
4 – Rebounds for Boston after the first quarter. Thompson and Love both equaled or beat this by themselves. By halftime the Cavs had double the Celtics’ rebounding total, 28-14. They ended up having only four more rebounds than Boston, but a lot of that was skewed during mop-up time.
17 – Points for Celtics star Isaiah Thomas. While they didn’t shut him down, they showed that anytime LeBron James wants to, he can make Thomas disappear.
See you Friday night in Boston for Game 2!