BOSTON — The tendency for Cavaliers fans and maybe the players themselves is to get their backs up over hard fouls from the Boston Celtics, if for no other reason than what happened here during the playoffs two years ago.
In the immediate aftermath of Cleveland’s 117-104 win over the Celtics in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals on Wednesday, J.R. Smith said for Game 2 (Friday, 8:30 p.m., TNT) the Cavs “understand there might be dirty plays, might be cheap shots coming from the other side just because they are fighting for their lives at this point.”
But after sleeping on it and showing up for practice Thursday at TD Garden, the Cavs gave a collective shrug to two plays involving Isaiah Thomas from Game 1 that drew sharp reactions from Cavs fans and coach Tyronn Lue.
The players and coach said there was nothing malicious to Thomas’ apparent grabbing of Kevin Love’s ankle in the third quarter while Thomas was on the ground, nor did they seem too upset over Thomas’ hard foul of LeBron James while he was in midair in the fourth quarter.
— Joe Noga (@JoeNogaCLE) May 18, 2017
In Cleveland’s four-game sweep of the Celtics in the 2015 playoffs, chippiness between teams escalated as the series wore on and culminated with Kelly Olynyk’s ripping Love’s shoulder out of place and Smith punching Crowder after Crowder jammed him in the back.
“We just gotta keep our composure,” Lue said. “We have to be more physical also, but just keep our composure and play through it.”
With 3:18 left in the third quarter in Game 1 and the Cavs ahead 89-64, Thomas missed on a drive to the hoop and hit the deck. He then reached to grab Love’s ankle as play was headed the other way.
Love said he didn’t know about the play after it happened Wednesday night and on Thursday James said he didn’t see it either. Lue said “it wasn’t anything. No big deal.”
With 9:47 left in the game, Thomas bumped James while he was headed to the rim for a layup. James landed wrong and limped before shooting his free throws, and Lue screamed at the officials to look to see if Thomas deserved a flagrant foul.
But on Thursday Lue said “it wasn’t as bad as I thought it was once I looked at it on tape, in live motion.
“Things happen during the course of the game, even on … defensive assignments or shots: ‘Man, that was a bad shot’ or ‘That was a bad defensive play,'” Lue said. “When you watch it on film it wasn’t that bad.”
James said “I wasn’t upset by” Thomas’ foul. For perspective, James is 6-8 and at least 250 pounds, while Thomas is 5-9 and 185. James looked like he shooed Thomas away during contact.
“You know, it’s a physical game,” James said. “I don’t know the — when they look at it and when they don’t look at it as far as the officials. I’m not sure when they go look at the monitor and when they don’t, but I was able to get up and knock down my free throws, just keep pushing.
“We’ve just got to continue — the main thing is just to win the ballgame no matter how physical or how chippy it gets.”
James posted 38 points, nine rebounds, and seven assists in Game 1, while Thomas was limited to 17 points on 7-of-19 shooting, with 10 assists.
“This team has had their back against the wall before, so we know they’re going to come out and perform,” Lue said of the Celtics. “It’s only one game, so they’re going to make adjustments and come out and be ready for Game 2.”