Celtics Need More Than Luck: Cavs-Celtics Game 1, Behind the Box Score

Cleveland Cavaliers – 117
Boston Celtics – 104
[Box Score]

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.

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.

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.

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!

  • formerbrownsfan

    Great game. I really don’t see Boston winning a game in this series. I like many, am just concerned about injury. Boston has shown that they are willing to take very cheap shots.

  • formerbrownsfan

    Great game. I really don’t see Boston winning a game in this series. I like many, am just concerned about injury. Boston has shown that they are willing to take very cheap shots.

  • BenRM

    If the NBA is smart, they will look at that Kelly arm bar and the IT ankle sweep and put the refs on high alert. At this point, the playoffs have been mostly a bust b/c Cavs-Warriors 3 is inevitable. If the Cavs go into the series down a man because the Celtics are a dirty team, that’s a bad look for the league.

  • RGB

    Yep. Just as I thought. Bahston is going to goon it up.
    So, which strategy do we favor?
    1. Build up a huge lead, pull the starters quick to avoid neanderthal-ball, and let the bench hang on and duke it out.
    2. Keep it close in hopes that Bahston will be more focused on playing proper basketball.

  • jpftribe

    Rest in peace pal. This is a real bummer.

  • Greg Popelka

    Uptick for your name

  • jpftribe

    I don’t watch much basketball, but my son turned on the WAS-BOS game 7 the other night. I watched about 5 minutes and said, “These are playoff teams?” No way Cavs should lose to these guys.

  • Greg Popelka

    There’s also the danger of someone like TT or JR retaliating and getting suspended.

  • mgbode

    NBA ratings are up this year on the whole, but we might see them dissipate until the Finals. Warriors-Spurs G1 had one of highest rated CF this century, but G2 had one of the lowest (apparently, people are smart enough to know if you lose a MVP-candidate as the underdog, then you aren’t going to win).

  • RGB

    I’m sure LBJ has drilled it into their brains…under no circumstances will you retaliate to a cheapshot. Because they’re coming.

  • BenRM

    I find that very surprising. Perhaps it has something to do with the lower number of actual playoff games played this year inflating numbers.

    I suppose Boston and DC (and to a lesser extent Chicago) are all pretty big markets, so that undoubtedly helped too.

  • Brandon Troy

    I felt like there were multiple plays where Celtics were holding players arms and they were making it blatantly obvious. It really appears that they are making a conscious effort to grab and pull limbs. It’s dirty basketball. Kelly Olynyk is brown water trash.

  • BenRM

    They were doing it in the Wizard’s series too!

    Sadly, unlike Draymond and the Warriors, the C’s won’t make it far enough in the playoffs for their dirty play to come back and bite them in the form of a suspension.

  • JM85

    This series is over already. And if Boston keeps up the dirty nonsense, perhaps Dahntay Jones could help?


    I had a similar feeling. I convinced my wife to watch a bit of their Game 7 to see who I “wanted to win” to think about who the Cavs had the better chance against. I came away from that thinking, “Neither of these teams can match up with the Cavs for more than a game or two.”

  • jpftribe

    His courtside interview after the game could definitely be interpreted that way.

  • Eric G

    Let’s not forget the Celtics went 0-for-everything in the 1st half

  • CBI

    I think that is Dahntay Jones’s job.

  • Dave

    I think the refs already are paying attention. They called an unusually high number of fouls on the Celtics, Smart fouled out, Crowdor nearly fouled out, and that was with home court. No techs yet other than a defensive 3-second, but the refs definitely weren’t swallowing their whistles on this.

  • Dave

    Where’s Kendrick Perkins when we need him?

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