The Celtics are 8-0 at home in these playoffs and have never lost a series after leading 2-0, neither of which look like very good news for the Cavaliers. Brad Stevens is coaching like the genius I’ve been calling him, the Celtics are playing like a true team, despite being without both Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward, and the Cavaliers look like the same team they had before cleaning house midseason, with only LeBron James and Kevin Love really contributing. The Cavs could rout the Celtics in Cleveland on Saturday and Monday and get right back into this series, but as of now, it sure looks like Stevens’ Celtics have their number.
Jaylen Brown led the way for the Celtics last night, dropping 23 points with seven rebounds, three assists, a steal and three 3-pointers, while the entire Celtics team was only responsible for five turnovers on the night (Jayson Tatum led the way with 2). The Cavaliers had 15 turnovers, led by LeBron (6) and Jeff Green (5). All five Celtics starters scored in double figures and hit at least one 3-pointer, Al Horford had a double-double, Terry Rozier scored 14 points in the third quarter to put the Cavaliers away, and Marcus Smart came up big off the bench with 11 points, five boards, nine assists, four steals and a 3-pointer, but hit just 3-of-9 shots in 31 minutes. Rozier and Smart combined for just one turnover on the night and Stevens has his team taking care of the ball as priority number one.
It’s hard to imagine how good the Celtics might be when Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward are healthy, and it’s also hard to imagine how much trouble they’d be in if guys like Rozier, Smart and Brown were there to step up in their place. And I’m interested to see how Stevens manages all their minutes next season, although it’s a great problem to have.
The Cavaliers got a monster 42-10-12 triple-double from LeBron James, who finds himself in an 0-2 hole in the Eastern Conference for the first time in 10 years. LeBron scored 21 points in the first quarter, tying his career playoff high for a period, and this was his fifth 40-point game of these playoffs. However, the Cavaliers won the other four times he did it (three against Indy, once against Toronto). LeBron left the game just before halftime with an apparent neck sprain, but was able to return and looked fine after suffering the injury. He should be good to go for Game 3. This was a huge, bounce-back game for James, but outside of Kevin Love, he really didn’t get any help from his teammates. James was pretty awful in Game 1, but he literally did everything he could do last night, and it still wasn’t really that close to being enough. Call me a LeBron apologist if you want to, but the ball movement, attitudes and talent he was surrounded with last night was very reminiscent of the team he had earlier this season, which Cleveland dismantled in February. That new team looked good for much of the second half, squeaked by the Pacers in Round 1 and routed the Raptors in Round 2, but can’t seem to get anything going against the Celtics.
Love was solid with 22 points, 15 boards and two 3-pointers, and has been playing very well for the past few weeks, and new starter Tristan Thompson had eight points, seven rebounds and no blocks on 4-of-6 shooting. But the starting guards for the Cavaliers were abysmal, as J.R. Smith missed all seven of his shots and didn’t score a point, while George Hill hit just 1-of-4 shots for three points, two rebounds and one assist. Just how invisible have those two been in this series? Together, they’re averaging just a combined 3.0 points on 5-of-24 shooting, 0.75 assists and 0.25 steals, and are being dwarfed by Terry Rozier, Marcus Smart and anyone else playing guard for Boston. And while the Cavs made a bit of a comeback last night and were only down eight with about four minutes remaining, Smith got called for a Flagrant 1 for shoving a mid-air Horford in the back, and then nearly got another flagrant and an ejection after Smart went after him. It was 97-89 when Smith pushed Horford, but he hit the two free throws, then got an And-1 on the inbounds play, and then we saw Tristan Thompson get called for an offensive foul after a great LeBron block, putting the game away for the Celtics. The Cavs were likely on track to lose with or without J.R.’s ill-advised foul on Horford, but it ended up taking away any chance they might have had.
Larry Nance was 0-for-1 with a missed alley-oop jam in 11 minutes, Jeff Green had six points and five turnovers in his 28 minutes, the artist formerly known as Rodney Hood scored two points in just 11 minutes, and Kyle Korver had 11 points, two 3-pointers and nothing else in 21 minutes. If I’m Ty Lue, I’m probably benching Smith and starting Korver in the next one, but I doubt he makes the change.
As I said above, the Cavaliers could put it all together and play well in Saturday’s and Monday’s home Games 3 & 4 and get right back in this series, but if they lose one of those games, this thing is over. And given how bad LeBron’s mates looked last night, I’m not sure even home court can save them.
Western Conference Finals
The Warriors are at Houston on Wednesday with a 1-0 lead and will look to hit the Rockets with a knock-out punch tonight. No, the series won’t end if the Warriors win tonight, but with Games 3 and 4 in Oakland, I don’t see any way the Rockets can survive this series unless they win tonight and then take either Game 3 or 4. And even then, the Warriors still feel like they’re going to be unbeatable in this series.
The Draft Lottery took place on Tuesday night and the Suns got the No. 1 pick. In case you missed it, here are the Top 14 picks in this year’s draft, taking place on June 21. Included are my guesses as to how the draft might shake down.
1. Suns – C DeAndre Ayton
2. Kings – F/C Marvin Bagley
3. Hawks – G Luka Doncic
4. Grizzlies – C Jaren Jackson
5. Mavericks – C Mohamed Bamba
6. Magic – C Wendell Carter
7. Bulls – PG Trae Young
8. Cavs (from Nets – how’d that trade work out?) – SF Michael Porter
9. Knicks – SF Mikal Bridges
10. 76ers – F Miles Bridges
11. Hornets – C Robert Williams
12. Clippers – PG Collin Sexton
13. Clippers – F Kevin Knox
14. Nuggets – PG Shai Gilgeous-Alexander