(Photo credit: USA TODAY Sports via Reuters/Winslow Townson)
The Boston Celtics set a marker in Game 1 at TD Garden, destroying the Eastern Conference champions 108-83. Here are five takeaways from the game in Boston.
LeBron is mortal after all
LeBron James has been on one tear this postseason. However, for the first time in these playoffs he looked mortal against the Celtics. Boston threw all of their versatile wing defenders at James and the combination of Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart, Marcus Morris and Semi Ojeleye did enough to make Cleveland's key cog a passive influence on the game.
The Dallas Mavericks established this blueprint for dealing with the King back in 2011 and it relies on having a roster stacked with long athletic wings - which Boston has in abundance. By giving James a constant range of different looks, whilst also refusing to double team him, Boston never let him settle into the game.
Cleveland’s loss was only the ninth time in his career that LeBron has had more turnovers than made field goals. Five of these games have come against Boston.
Boston deal with Korver and Love
The same versatile wings that helped Boston slow down LeBron were also instrumental in shutting down something that absolutely killed the Toronto Raptors in the previous round. Kyle Korver and Kevin Love’s two-man off the ball game was brutal against the Raps and Toronto had no answer.
Korver and Love’s ballet, in which they combine a dizzying array of off ball screens, darts to the corners and back-door cuts meant that between them Love and Korver dominated from downtown in the series.
Unlike Toronto, the Celtics have the physicality and athleticism on the wings to not get destroyed by this deadly two-man game. Korver was hounded all night and ended up shooting just one for five from deep and it took until the third quarter for Cleveland to make a single 3-pointer. They ended up shooting an ugly 4 of 26 from beyond the arc.
Jayson & Jaylen are ice cold
One of the enduring images of last year's playoffs was the sight of rookie Jaylen Brown staring blankly into the distance on the bench as James unceremoniously destroyed his Celtics squad.
Last night, Brown, along with rookie Jayson Tatum, looked right at home on the floor with LeBron. Brown led all Boston scorers with 23 points whilst Tatum looked less like a rookie and more like a veteran of countless playoff battles.
Tatum relentlessly attacked Cleveland’s soft defense, forcing it to collapse before kicking out to open shooters. Brown was deadly from deep, connecting on 60 percent of his 3-point attempts. It is terrifying to think between them these two have just three years of NBA experience - ice flows in their veins and they look built for playoff basketball.
Al Horford shines in key matchup
Injuries to Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward have meant that Al Horford has had to take center stage this season and, boy, has he delivered. Horford has been a leader on and off the court for the Celtics and he dominated a key matchup in Game 1.
Cleveland coach Ty Lue loves to play Love at center, meaning he can surround LeBron with four shooters. Most of the Cavs' deadliest lineups this season have featured Love at centre. However, Horford presents a huge matchup for Love. Boston’s veteran centre is a versatile enough defender to guard Love effectively in the post and out on the perimeter. Love had a decent game last night, scoring 17 points, but Horford had the better of this battle.
On the offensive end, Horford has a clear advantage as Love cannot defend the crafty veteran in the paint. Big Al had repeated success with his slick up and under move and finished with 20 points on an insane 8 of 10 from the field.
Horford has been bounced from the playoffs by LeBron for the past three seasons, winning just a single game along the way. But if he can keep up this level of performance and force Cleveland to play a traditional center for significant minutes, he may finally have his revenge.
Cleveland won’t press the panic button
Cleveland are too experienced to go into a full scale panic mode. This is a team that haven’t lost an Eastern Conference playoff series for three years and are led by a player who hasn’t lost one since 2010. Let that sink in for a moment before you start planning for a Celtics vs Rockets/Warriors NBA Finals series.
Game 1 couldn’t have gone much worse for the Cavs - they shot horrendously from deep, LeBron had a rare off night and the TD Garden crowd was as raucous as it gets. The Cavs know they can play much better and also know Boston have struggled mightily on the road this postseason, winning just a single game.
Boston will be feeling great about their blowout but this series is far from over.
Will the Cavs bounce back in Game 2? Comment below!