Celtics Dominate Cavs in Game 1 Victory, What Went Wrong for Cleveland?
After getting through an early afternoon workout, I sat down on the couch to tune into Game 1 of the Cavs-Celtics series on ABC. Needless to say, I was shocked when I saw the Cavaliers trailing 58-33 with just under two minutes remaining in the half. But I continued to watch the Celtics run wild on the Cavaliers for most of the second half and take Game 1 by a final score of 108-83.
A lot stuck out about the opening game of the Eastern Conference Finals. Not only was Boston fully in control, but Cleveland was also uncharacteristically bad compared to the previous round against the Raptors. While I may have picked against the Cavs last series, I learned my lesson and take a look at what happened to Cleveland in their Game 1 loss to Boston that they will need to improve on to win this series.
Stifled in the first half to the tune of seven points, LeBron James never seemed to get it going in Game 1. He turned the ball over a team-high seven times which was also a personal worst for the three-time NBA Champion in this year's playoffs. He was a team-worst -32 when he was on the floor, having one of his worst postseason performances of the season. James shot 5-for-16 from the field and 0-for-5 from three-point range in Game 1. The numbers translated to a final stat line of 15 points, seven rebounds, and nine assists.
The Celtics did a great job of guarding LeBron in this game and clearly got to him. At one point in the second half, James drove to the basket and thought he drew contact, the referees did not whistle for a foul. Rather than getting back on the defensive side, James began talking to an official about the no-call allowing the Celtics to get an easy bucket at the other end. But there is a reason James is the best player in the league. Look for him to adjust in Game 2 and get an early start to help boost the Cavaliers.
The Cavaliers settled for lots of shots outside of the paint and were not crashing the boards. A majority of what I saw were missed jumpers from the Cavaliers that were being swallowed up by the Celtics defenders as they sat uncontested in the paint. Sometimes when settling for these jumpers, Boston would have three or four guys underneath the hoop waiting for the rebound to go on the offensive attack. Rarely were they contested by any Cavaliers players in the paint for offensive rebounds. That has to change.
The Cavaliers were outrebounded 54-47 on the game and 42-31 on defensive rebounds. Plain and simple, Cleveland has to win the rebounding battle if they want to be successful against the Celtics. Settling for jumpers is one thing, but being outnumbered in the paint on the offensive end leads to less second chance opportunities off the miss. Cleveland needs to do a better job of sending guys to the paint and get aggressive for the rebounds against this Celtics team.
Cleveland struggled with shooting in Game 1, going 31-for-86 from the field for a field goal percentage of 36%. The Celtics on the other hand, shot 51.2% from the field going 43-for-84. To put it simply, the Cavs need to shoot better and it comes down to taking more quality shots. Too many times the Celtics defense forced them to take low percentage shots from the field and it resulted in misses. Cleveland needs to pound the paint more and take it to the hoop. This was something Boston thrived on in Game 1 as they dominated Cleveland 60-38 in the paint. It is up to guys like LeBron James, Kevin Love, and Tristan Thompson to counter the Celtics big men down low and attack the glass.
In addition to poor shooting from the field, the Cavaliers also struggled from beyond the arc. The Cavaliers from 0-for-12 from three-point range in the first half and finished the game shooting 4-for-26, good for 15.4% from outside. The Celtics shot 36.7% from three going 11-for-30 in the game. Cleveland has three-point shooters like JR Smith, Kyle Korver, and Jeff Green who have to get going in the series for the Cavaliers to have a chance. They were a combined 1-for-9 from three in Game 1, something that is likely not to happen again in Game 2. If Cleveland cannot get it done from the perimeter or in the paint, then they could be in trouble this series.
I talked about this for my keys to the Cavaliers winning Game 1 against the Raptors. LeBron James can only do so much for the Cavaliers and needs help from the supporting cast around him. While I did not believe they would be able to provide him with that help against the Raptors for an entire series after a terrible first round, they proved me wrong. The only other starter besides LeBron to reach double figure points in this game was Kevin Love who finished with 17 points. The other three starters in George Hill, Kyle Korver, and JR Smith combined for 14 points in the game. Not exactly the kind of help the Cavaliers can have from their supporting cast if they want to advance.
The bench was not much better either given it was a blowout and most of the stats came in garbage time. Out of the four bench players who saw more than ten minutes on the floor, only Jordan Clarkson and Rodney Hood registered double-digit points with 10 and 11 points respectively. Not only will the Cavaliers need more help from their starters, but the bench has to step it up as well. The entire supporting cast around LeBron James cannot go into a shell like they did in the first round. They need to play like they did against the Raptors if they want any chance of success in this series against the Celtics.
After the Cavaliers as a whole proved me wrong last round, there is no way I will change my prediction of who wins the Eastern Conference Finals. I firmly believe the Cavaliers can get it done against the Celtics. While it may not be in five games like I predicted, I think they will steal at least one game on the road, which should be enough to beat a Celtics team who is 1-4 on the road this postseason and now 8-0 at home.
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