The Cleveland Cavaliers opened the 2017 Eastern Conference Finals with a dominant road win that sent a clear message to the Boston Celtics that they are not yet among the NBA’s elite. However, it was hard to imagine that such an overwhelming blowout could take place again in Friday night’s Game 2. The Celtics have a reputation as a team that gets by on effort, and the combination of an adjustment to the challenges of their opponent and playing in front of a loud home crowd appeared to set the stage for a more competitive contest.
If anything, Game 2 only saw the Cavaliers dominate the Celtics in more complete fashion. The Cavaliers opened up their first double-digit lead with 4:39 remaining in the first quarter and never looked back, leading 32-18 after the opening period and taking the second by an absurd 40-13 margin. An absurd first half culminated in a J.R. Smith buzzer-beater to make it 72-31, setting a new NBA record for halftime margin in a playoff game.
Cleveland added to its margin in the third quarter and led by as many as 50 points before settling on a 130-86 final. It’s the worst home playoff loss in Boston’s storied history (shattering the previous record of 29) and the worst loss ever for a No. 1 seed in the postseason. It’s also the highest-scoring and largest playoff win in Cavs franchise history. The Cavs have also won 13 straight playoff games, matching the NBA record set by the 1988-89 Los Angeles Lakers.
The Cavs still have to win two more games to end the Eastern Conference Finals, but anything less than a sweep would come as a surprise. The Celtics look like they know it’s over.
Not surprisingly, LeBron James led the way. After claiming that he and the Cavs weren’t at their best in their Game 1 win, LeBron backed up the warning with a stellar performance. He finished with 30 points (12-of-18 FG), seven assists, four steals, and three blocks in 30 minutes, but his impact went beyond the numbers. His first-half plus-minus of plus-40 set a new personal best for any half in his career, and his full-game plus-45 ranks second for anyone in the playoffs since 2001. Simply put, James is in full control of this series and doesn’t look ready to yield. Who needs to be an MVP finalist when you can dominate games so easily?
James had plenty of help. The Cavs shot 26-of-44 from the field and 10-of-22 from deep with 16 assists and only five turnovers in the first half, proving once again that the Celtics do not have the ability to guard their numerous shooters. Kevin Love (21 points and 12 rebounds) and Kyrie Irving (23 points on 8-of-11 FG) were the only other Cavaliers to finish in double figures before Richard Jefferson joined them in garbage time, but their contributions were more than enough. Cleveland got the shots it wanted and looked eminently comfortable doing it. They scored 103 points through the first three quarters and easily could have threatened to hit 135 or 140 if not for the game’s copious garbage time.
Stunningly, their defense effort arguably impressed more than what they did on offense. The Celtics looked flustered offensively and struggled to take even the most open shots in rhythm, a mark of both the Cavs’ ability to control the flow of the game and the vast gap in comfort between both sides. Star Isaiah Thomas scored just two points on 0-of-6 shooting from the field before becoming a precautionary scratch for the second half with a right hip strain, and his struggles were emblematic of Boston’s team-wide struggles. They shot just 27.5 percent from the field and turned it over 10 times before the break. Scoring got a little easier in the second half, but by that point the result was well in hand. As Thomas said after Game 1, the Cavs aren’t the Monstars. The Monstars didn’t show up like this in the second half.
If they were the Monstars, they'd blow a huge lead and lose. Like IT said, they're not the Monstars. https://t.co/3fHiVZsCCW
— Taco Trey Kerby (@treykerby) May 20, 2017
Beyond the margins and stats, the Celtics appear to know they cannot compete with the Cavaliers in this series. The insertion of Gerald Green into the starting lineup paid dividends with two early three-pointers, but the Cavs began to build momentum roughly halfway through the first quarter and never faced serious opposition thereafter. The Celtics had no answers, fumbled through too many offensive possessions, and seemed to have no sense of their defensive priorities. The best they can do at this point is to salvage some pride.
Any regular season worries regarding the Cavs’ ability to “flip the switch” in the playoffs now look laughably overblown. They’re headed for their third-straight NBA Finals, and the only question is how soon they’ll make it official.
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