CLEVELAND, Ohio — Talking to myself after the Cleveland Cavaliers 117-104 victory over the Boston Celtics on Wednesday in the opener of the 2017 NBA Eastern Conference Finals:
Question: Big picture, what did you think of the Cavs?
Q: That’s your insight … wow?
A: There are times in sports when people talk too much, say too many words attempting to describe the indescribable. You can talk about WOW moments in sports … the Cavs had a WOW first half in Boston. LeBron James led his team into a green sea of screaming fans high on a Game 7 semifinals victory over the Washington Wizards on Monday followed by winning the NBA draft lottery on Tuesday … and … well … WOW!.
Q: Can’t you do better than that?
A: You can add … POW! LeBron wanted to deliver what amounts to the first flurry of basketball punches when playing Game 1 on the road. He told the media: “You can’t start off lax or shooting a bunch of jump shots … for myself, I have to be in attack mode.”
Q: Explain that?
A: LeBron was like the biggest, most talented kid on the playground in a pickup game. Think an asphalt surface. Think old-fashioned metal, half-moon backboards and chain-link nets. Think how that kid takes the ball to the rim time after time after time. And no one can stop him.
Q: But this was not a playground, right?
A: It was Game 1, Eastern Conference Finals in Boston. And LeBron turned it into his favorite playground. As Boston coach Brad Stevens told the media after the game: “He made it very clear that he was trying to get to the rim no matter who was on him.”
Q: Who was defending him?
A: In the first quarter, Boston scored 19 points. LeBron had 15 points. I counted at least five different players attempting to defend him: Marcus Smart, Jae Crowder, Kelly Olynyk, Al Horford and little Isaiah Thomas. But Boston seldom double-teamed him hard. So LeBron went to the rim. It was a little bit of bully-ball, LeBron overpowering various defenders. “He’s always picking the (defensive) matchups he wants,” said Stevens.
Q: Are you saying the game was over at the end of the first quarter?
A: Yes. The score was 30-19. Obviously, Boston could still come back. While James was the locomotive, the freight train was running strong. At one point in the first half, the Cavs owned the boards, 19-8. Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson combined for 21 rebounds. All five Boston starters had only 22. The Cavs were as determined defensively to impose their will on the game as any time this season. By halftime, it was 61-39.
Q: Do you plan to say anything about Kevin Love scoring 32 points with 12 rebounds?
A: Let’s give him a WOW. Love is the first Cavs player to score at least 30 points with at least 10 rebounds (other than LeBron) in the postseason since Brad Daugherty did it in 1992. He scored six quick points in the second quarter when Kyrie Irving and LeBron were resting. He was hot from the outside (6-of-9 on 3-pointers) and rebounding and defending hard inside.
Q: So it was a two-man team, LeBron and Love scoring 70 of the Cavs 117 points?
A: Nope it was the Big Three … take a bow, Tristan Thompson. He took seven shots (virtually all dunks or layups) and made them all. He scored 20 points. “He’s our energy,” said Cavs coach Tyronn Lue. “He’s our motor. Defensively, he was great … His physicality is huge for us, especially against this team.”
Q: I thought you were worried Boston would be the more physical team?
A: It was a concern for me. I also think Lue stressed that part of the game, how the Cavs needed to be the aggressor. As Boston’s Isaiah Thomas told the media: “They hit us first. They were more physical.”
Q: What about Kyrie Irving?
A: That’s another WOW part of this story. Irving was not much of a factor on offense, scoring 11 points on 4-of-11 shooting. But he had six assists, two steals and helped the team defense on Isaiah Thomas. The Cavs dominated this game with a so-so performance from Irving.
Q: What happened to Thomas?
A: He ended up with 17 points on 7-of-19 shooting. But in the first half, he was 3-of-11 for eight ugly points. The Cavs kept double-teaming him. Boston was 2-of-16 shooting 3-pointers in the first half. The Cavs defense was excellent.
Q: What about Game 2?
A: As Lue said after the opener: “When we’re playing defense like that and we’re able to get out and run, we’re tough to beat.” I’ll add this: If the Cavs don’t take anything for granted and play with the same energy, Boston is in big trouble again. The Cavs just have to avoid complacency.