The Cavaliers and Celtics open their Eastern Conference finals series Sunday in Boston. We’ll have live analysis throughout. Get all the info you need below.
Kyle Korver hit Cleveland’s first three-pointer three minutes into the third quarter.
Bold strategy by the Cavaliers.
The Cavaliers have lived by their offense all season long. But when their shots don’t fall, the Cavaliers look like a lottery team.
That’s what’s happened so far in Game 1.
Cleveland shot 15 for 47 in the first half. It went 0 for 12 from three. Only one player shot better than 50 percent from the field – and that was Tristan Thompson, who went 3 for 5.
The Cavaliers simply aren’t good enough defensively to make up for a bad shooting game, especially against a good team like the Celtics. So while Cleveland was clanging shots – many of them decent looks – all over the place – Boston was slicing the Cavaliers’ defense to the tune of 58.5 percent shooting overall and going 5 for 12 from three.
That’s how the Cavaliers finds themselves down 61-35 at halftime, with what will be a long 48 hours between Games 1 and 2 to attempt to figure out how to slow Boston down – and perhaps to remind themselves to hit a few shots, as well.
The Cleveland Cavaliers have had one of the NBA’s worst defenses all season long.
It is on display in Game 1 against the Celtics.
The first half of this opener to the Eastern Conference finals has been nothing but a layup line so far for Boston, with a few threes for the Celtics mixed in.
The result? Boston holds a 58-33 lead late in the second quarter, and it looks like Cleveland might need to start thinking about what to do in Game 2.
Kevin Love’s early foul trouble caused Cavaliers Coach Tyronn Lue to shuffle his usual rotation.
LeBron James has been having success anchoring the second unit at the start of second quarters recently. But with Love heading to the bench early in the first because of two quick fouls (and perhaps combined with Cleveland falling behind by 21 points in the first), James played the whole quarter, with Love featuring in the second quarter instead.
Cleveland has slowly been able to claw back into the game, but has a long way to go to make it competitive again.
It didn’t take long for the Celtics to turn this game on its head.
Boston broke the game open with a 25-2 run that stretched more than six minutes, eventually finishing the quarter outscoring Cleveland 32-11 over the final 9:18 to take a 36-18 lead after one.
The Celtics went 14 for 22 from the field in the first quarter, with seven of Boston’s eight players who saw time in the first scoring — led by Al Horford’s 11 points on a perfect 4 for 4 showing from the field.
For most of the first quarter, those 11 points outscored Cleveland’s entire team, as the Cavaliers eventually trailed by as many as 21 thanks to Boston’s explosion. A late flurry improved Cleveland’s outlook slightly, but the Cavaliers started the game 3 for 16 from the floor, including 0 for 5 from three, to dig themselves into a giant hole.
Several of those missed shots early in the game were open looks, too. Meanwhile, Boston began working Cleveland’s defense – which has been a weak spot all year – with great results.
There has been plenty of talk about how the Boston Celtics are going to try to stop LeBron James in the Eastern Conference finals. Celtics Coach Brad Stevens altered his starting lineup for Game 1 by replacing Aron Baynes with Marcus Morris.
But if Boston wants to beat Cleveland, and advance to the NBA Finals for the first time in eight years (which was the last time James lost to anyone in the East, by the way), the focus should not be on stopping James. Instead, it should be on neutralizing Kevin Love.
Just take a look at how the first two rounds of the playoffs have shaken out for Cleveland. Against the Indiana Pacers in the first round, Love was all over the place. He never scored more than 19 points – and scored in single-digits three times – while shooting 33 percent from the field and taking 14 free throws over the course of the entire series (six of which came in Game 4). Not coincidentally, the Pacers forced that series to go seven games, and gave Cleveland all it could handle.
Compare that to how Love played against the Toronto Raptors in the Eastern Conference semifinals. He had a rough Game 1, scoring seven points and taking no free throws in Cleveland’s overtime win. But in Games 2, 3 and 4? Love scored 31, 21 and 23 points, took a combined 20 free throws (going 18-for-20) and shot 47.5 percent from the field. Again, not coincidentally, the Raptors were swept out of the playoffs by Cleveland for a second straight season.
The difference between the Indiana and Toronto series, in a nutshell, was that James was a solo act against the Pacers and part of an ensemble against the Raptors. When Cleveland’s “others” are cooking, and knocking down shots from the perimeter, the Cavaliers go from being a very good offense to an unstoppable one – only on par with the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets in terms of their ability to score in bunches.
Love is, by far, the most talented of Cleveland’s supporting cast, a deserving all-star and versatile offensive weapon who can score from the post to the three-point line. Boston needs to do whatever it can not to stop James, but to make Love play closer to how he did against Indiana than how he tore up Toronto.
If the Celtics can succeed, they have a chance to make this series competitive. If not? It will be time to start preparing to travel to Cleveland for the fourth straight time in June.
- Cleveland Cavaliers at Boston Celtics, 3:30 p.m. (ABC)
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