Cleveland Cavaliers (2-0) 130
Boston Celtics (0-2) 86
The overarching narrative of the 2017 NBA Playoffs has been the inevitability of the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors being on a collision course for their third straight NBA Finals matchup.
Friday night in Boston for Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals, the Cavaliers did nothing to dispel that narrative as they absolutely thrashed the Celtics 130-86. The 44-point margin set a new franchise record for the Cavaliers in the playoffs.
In Game 1 of the series, the Cavaliers seemed to demoralize the Celtics despite Cleveland struggling with their outside shooting. Instead, the Cavaliers pounded the lane and attacked the Celtics inside. In Game 2, however, the outside shots started falling, which only served to create a snowball effect on the outcome.
What is there to even say about a game like this? In every single facet of the game, the Cavaliers dominated the Celtics and took their will. For once, the Cavaliers didn’t let off the gas, either. All the way to the final horn, the players on the court in Wine and Gold were playing hard and trying to make sure the Celtics didn’t recover any momentum or find a way to take away any hope. It was the most complete game the Cavaliers have played all season.
As the series shifts to Cleveland now, the question for Boston will be, what now? If there’s just one thing that is killing you, you can adapt and adjust to that. But how do you adjust when your opponent seems to have the upper hand in every single facet of the game? Making matters worse for the Celtics, Isaiah Thomas left the game at halftime with a hip injury. Celtics coach Brad Stevens told the media after the game that Thomas injured the hip late in their previous series against the Washington Wizards and seemed to re-tweak the injury in this game. He’ll be evaluated Saturday and his availability for Sunday will be decided later, but if he can’t go, this series is completely over.
Even with Isaiah, it’s an uphill battle for Boston. The Cavaliers are just playing on a completely different level from anything we’ve seen from them over the previous three seasons. Led by LeBron, the entire team is dialed in and focused while executing almost flawlessly on both ends of the court.
The Celtics have been down 0-2 after dropping the opening two games at home before in these playoffs. They fell down 0-2 to the Chicago Bulls in the first round, and then rallied back to win four straight and take the series. That will be the hope they will hang their hat on, but coming back against a Cavaliers team playing this well is a different animal. The odds are stacked against the Celtics coming back in this series, but it will be up to the Cavaliers to not let complacency set in.
Now, the numbers:
- 72-31 – The halftime score of this game was one of the most absurd things I’ve ever seen in a basketball game. Never mind the fact this was the Eastern Conference Finals with the #1 seed team at home trailing by 41 points at the half, that score of 72-41 was just crazy on its own merits. It was the largest halftime point margin in NBA Playoffs history. The Celtics could have doubled their point total and they still would have been trailing by double digits. The Cavaliers scored more points in the first quarter than the Celtics did in the entire half, and the second quarter was even better for the Cavaliers.
- 40-13 – The second quarter was where this game really got out of control for the Celtics. The Cavaliers outscored the Celtics 40-13 in the quarter, but that doesn’t even tell the story of just how dominant Cleveland was. The Cavaliers shot 58.3 percent from the field while holding Boston to 25.0 percent on five-of-20 shooting. The Cavaliers forced eight turnovers, had three steals, and blocked two shots. It was some of the most suffocating defense the Cavaliers played all season. Jae Crowder, Avery Bradley, and Jaylen Brown were the only Celtics to score in the entire quarter. Bradley and Brown each had two made shots and Crowder had one. That’s it, those were the five shots that Boston made in the entire quarter. Meanwhile, seven Cavaliers scored in the quarter with LeBron and Kevin Love each scoring in double digits.
- +46 – LeBron James ended this game with a +46 rating in the +/- statistic. I’ve seen some large +/- numbers in my life, and I’m sure people have had higher +/- ratings, but in a huge road game in the Eastern Conference Finals, the Cleveland Cavaliers outscored the Boston Celtics by 46 points when LeBron was on the floor. It’s just unreal. LeBron finished with 30 points, seven assists, four rebounds, three blocked shots and four steals. This was the tenth straight playoff game with 25+ points while shooting at least 50 percent from the field for LeBron, a streak matched only by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
- 72.7 percent – Much has been made of Kyrie Irving’s shooting struggles in the playoffs, and fairly so. Kyrie’s shot has definitely been off. Irving looked to start off quickly in this game by looking for his shot. Unfortunately for Kyrie, he missed his first three attempts from three-point range. Late in the first half, though, Kyrie hit a long three and it seemed to get him back on track. Kyrie never missed another shot after those first three-point attempts, finishing eight-of-11 from the field for 23 points.
- 21 and 12 – In Game 1, Kevin Love did much of the scoring damage for the Cavaliers while Tristan Thompson killed the Celtics on the boards. In Game 2, the Celtics put a lot of attention on sending multiple bodies at Tristan to try to keep him off the glass. It worked, as Thompson finished with just two rebounds. The bad news for the Celtics, however, is that focusing on boxing out Thompson with multiple bodies is that it leaves Kevin Love with room to pick up the slack. Love didn’t have to handle as much of the scoring load, but he was pretty great on offense again nevertheless. Love would finish with 21 points and 12 rebounds for yet another postseason double-double.
In the regular season this year, the Cavaliers never won more than six straight games. They have now won ten straight games to start off these playoffs, matching their mark they started with last year. Of course, last year the Cavaliers then dropped two straight games to the Toronto Raptors. But those games were in Toronto. This year, the series is now going back to Cleveland where the Cavaliers will have a real chance to match the NBA record of 11-0 to start the playoffs.
I’ve heard of teams flipping the switch before, but what the Cavaliers are doing right now is something I’ve never seen before. It’s not just that Cleveland is winning, it’s the way they seem to be demoralizing their opponent and crushing their spirit. It’s the way LeBron is locked in and focused and playing at a level we’ve perhaps never seen from him before.
Nothing is over in the NBA until the final buzzer sounds. Boston is going to do whatever they can to try to get back into this series. But the mismatches Cleveland presents for Boston probably aren’t going to change. It’s going to be a tough road for the Celtics. For the Cavaliers, they’ll now head back to the Q in Cleveland, where they haven’t played a game since May 3. The fans will be ready and my guess is the players will be as well. Game 3 is Sunday night.