The Celtics were looking to keep momentum on their side after winning their game 7 match-up against the Wiz on Monday, followed by their draft lottery win on Tuesday. They say all things comes in 3’s, but this time the “good things” ran out after just two days. Jaylen Brown’s performance was perhaps the only positive takeaway for the Celtics after Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals saw LeBron James and Kevin Love combine for 70 of their team’s points in the Cavs 117-104 win against the Celtics.
The Game Flow
Boston came out flat to begin the game but somehow managed to stay within shouting distance for much of the first quarter. First off, anybody paying attention could tell it wasn’t going to be a good start when their first 3 possessions were a turnover from Isaiah Thomas, followed by a missed jumpshot by IT, and then the deepest two possible with both of Avery Bradley’s heels clearly planted on the line. Not only was it a difficult 2PA, but the shot rattled around the rim for a brief and teasing moment before ultimately popping out. Then Jae Crowder actually tipped the rebound – but! It was to nobody in particular and the Cavs regained possession of the ball. This was much of the Celtics first half in a shell, really. The C’s shot 40% from the field and the Cavs had more points in the paint at 22 than the Celts had overall.
But at the end of the 1st the C’s had only trailed by 11, at a score of 30-19. The highlight thus far in the game had been Avery Bradley, who seemingly brought over the confidence confirmed in the Wizards series to begin the game with 9 points in the quarter; many of them coming because he was able to get himself open via cuts through the backdoor a la vintage Avery Bradley. Jaylen Brown also showed signs of life beginning as early as the 1st, as he was technically the Celtics 2nd leading scorer after the 1st quarter (4pts.). But to exactly nobody’s surprise: the Cavalier’s offense looked well rested and better prepared.
After playing the entirety of the 1st quarter, LeBron James had started the 2nd quarter on the bench. One would believe this is the time the Celtics could close the lead, but alas, the gap had only widened in the most frustrating ways possible. The Celtics were running through screens, setting screens properly, executing their plays, and showing the necessary effort – but they had minimum to show for it. It honestly looked as though the pressure of the Conference Finals had reached the very core of the team, at least for the half thus far, and flubber-arms resulted in a lot of missed shots.
Another representation of the Celtics game tonight came in the 2nd quarter when Marcus Smart missed a wide open 3. The fans were first given hope when Jaylen Brown first made an athletic offensive rebound. He then had the vision to find the cutting and now open Al Horford who takes his shot only to have his close range attempt bounce in and out of the rim. At this point, even Marv Albert was perplexed by the outcome of some of these possessions. He exclaimed, “how did that not go in?!” after Horford’s miss, to which the rest of Boston presumably answered “I know, right?!?” in response.
The ugliness truly stretched throughout the roster during the 2nd quarter. At one point, the Celtics had missed 6 in a row at one point during which the Cavs went on a 12-0 run. The Celtics were consistently missing wide open 3s. Even Isaiah Thomas, one of the best free throw shooters at the team, had already missed 2 of a possible 3 from the line. The whole damn team was cold. They finished shooting 35.6% from the field at half, and without Avery Bradley’s 11 points on 56% shooting, the team’s numbers would be uglier still.
Cleveland shot a paltry 22% from deep in the 1st half, but the Celtics still couldn’t take advantage. The game officially reached historically embarrassing levels at the end of the half when the score had reached 61-39, tying the franchise record for largest deficit at half for a home playoff game at 22 points (the other game courtesy of LeBron James, as well, during his first stint in CLE 2010).
The Celtics had made improvements during the 3rd and it actually appeared for a moment that the refs would start calling more fouls in favor of the Celtics for all of two seconds. But the fact was the refs are humans, and these humans weren’t compelled to blow their whistles. The Celtics couldn’t even hit their open shots, so why would the refs believe that any of their missed shots may have been due to a foul? You may not agree with it, and the system definitely isn’t perfect, but you have to earn your foul calls in more ways than one sometimes.
On the positive note, Avery Bradley ran off a string of 4 straight makes after his horrid first half starting the game 1 of 9. He wasn’t only hitting shots now, but he was making rebounds, tipping away balls for steals, and generally providing the energy the offense had otherwise been lacking. Jaylen Brown continued his strong showing with great defensive efforts against LeBron James and even forced a missed shot on two straight possessions.
The Celtics then had drawn the game to within the closest margin in over 12 minutes after a beautiful team play spanning coast to coast. Gerald Green’s closeout on a Kevin Love’s 3 forced a missed shot in the waning seconds of the 3rd. Avery Bradley had scooped up the rebound and went coast to coast, but ultimately missed his contested layup only to have Marcus Smart come through for the emphatic put-back dunk. This, of course, sent the Garden crowd in a frenzy; as not only was it an exciting play, but it was one in which the Celtics managed to pull ever so closer to the Cavs. The game went into the 4th quarter the most competitive it had been since the 2nd quarter, with “just” a 17 point defecit for the C’s. 92-75.
Kyle Korver came out and immediately showed the Gardden fans to their seats as he drilled a 3 to push the lead back to 20 at the start of the 4th quarter. You and I both know the Celtics wouldn’t go away quietly, though. This is a team that never says quit. Jaylen Brown had continued his endless pursuits of boards on both side of the ball (he finished with a near double-double at 10 points, 9 rebounds); Gerald Green finished 3 of 5 from deep with 11 points, and Jae Crowder began hitting his 3s with more proficiency as well, as he finished 4 of 6 from deep. These men all greatly contributed to the Celtics eventually pulling within 11, but the 3’s wouldn’t stop raining for the Cavs, and the game was over before any great comeback could be staged. The final score for the game was 117-104, but anybody watching will tell you it wasn’t even that close.
This has to go to Marcus Smart simply for making the highlight of the night on the Celtics side. Isaiah’s 10 assists were nice but…
This gave Celtics fans a reason to cheer for the first time since the 1st quarter.
The defense and shooting pissed us off to no end. The Celtics actually only lost the rebound war (a frequent visitor to the ‘pissed off’ section) by 4 rebounds, as Cleveland snagged 44 to their 40. But NO team can allow Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson to combine for 16 of 23 shooting. On top of that, the Celtics shot 46.6% from the field and just 31.6% from 3. You don’t have to be a basketball savant to know that this won’t get it done in the Playoffs.
If you think Red would have given out a cigar after this performance then you’re out of your mind. But since I have a soft spot in my heart for Jaylen Brown, I at least have to give a tip of the cap to the kid. He played remarkable defense on LBJ at times and added 10 points of 5 of 7 shooting. He almost registered his first double-double but finished a rebound shy with 9. It was a good game for the rook. Close, but no cigar.
Jae Crowder: 21pts (8 of 13 – 61.5%) 8rebs, 5asts
Avery Bradley: 21pts (8 of 16 – 50%) 4rebs, 1ast
Isaiah Thomas: 17pts (7 of 19 – 36.8%) 10asts
LeBron James: 38pts (14 of 24 – 58.3%) 9rebs, 7asts
Kevin Love: 32pts (9 of 16 -56.3%) 12 rebs, 1steal, 1block
Tristan Thompson: 20pts (7 of 7 – 100%) 9 rebs, 2 asts, 2steals