Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Boston Celtics: Game One Recap and Analysis

Unlike the Toronto Raptors, the Boston Celtics are prepared to put up a fight against ‘The King’ of the Eastern Conference.  They defeated LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in promising fashion, 108-83.

Jaylen Brown led the way for the Celtics, scoring 23 points on 9/16 shooting.  Al Horford also had an efficient scoring game with 20 points on 8/10 shooting while also dishing out six assists.  LeBron James had 15 points and nine assists to go along with seven rebounds.

Celtics head coach Brad Stevens had a clear game plan for the first game of the series; force someone other than James to make a play on offense.  Although the 33-year-old forward still had his way for portions of the game, the Celtics constantly threw two — sometimes three — defenders in the paint in order slow him down.

LeBron James shoots over Boston Celtics forward Al Horford during the first quarter. Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

The Cavaliers struggled to make shots from deep, going 4-for-26.  On the other hand, the Celtics were lights out — particularly in the first half — and finished the game 11-for-30 from range while shooting 51.2 percent from the floor.

Cleveland got off to a slow start, falling behind 36-18 after the first quarter.  The Celtics continued their momentum into the second and extended their lead to 26 at the half. After a strong third quarter from the Cavaliers, Boston was able to hang on and secure the game one victory.  

Stevens Not Afraid To Double Team LeBron

The story from game one is how well the Celtics guarded James.  

As expected, Marcus Morris was James’ primary match-up on defense.  He did a great job, but it was more of a team effort when it came to slowing James down.  Boston sent double teams at LeBron every time he entered the post — sometimes even giving up open threes — and dared him to take the tough fadeaways he was making against the Raptors.

LeBron James reacts to not getting a foul called during the third quarter. Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

They did the same thing when he attempted to drive, keeping two three help defenders inside at a time.

It was a strange game for James, as he was noticeably passive in the first half.  It almost seemed that he wanted to purposely challenge his teammates, almost as a litmus test to see how what performance he’ll need to give for the duration of the series.  This is all speculation, and part of this may have to do with the Celtics defensive scheme, but expect James to come out far more aggressive in game two.

Cavs Must Improve Their Interior Defense

It became very clear, very fast that the Cavaliers were an inferior team defensive team in comparison to the Philadelphia 76ers, particularly in the paint.

Having to play five games against a team with Joel Embiid is a great test for any team’s interior scoring.  Boston took advantage of Cleveland’s shortage of rim-protectors, accumulating 60 points in the paint. In their five games against the Sixers, the Celtics averaged 40.0 points inside per-game.

Although Boston won’t shoot this well every game, Cleveland must find a way to limit their inside scoring opportunities.  The problem is that the Cavs do not have a plethora of backcourt options. Larry Nance Jr. is their only formidable replacement, but he’s far from an elite rim-protector.

Jayson Tatum attempts a layup during the fourth quarter. Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

That being said, it’s no time to the Cavaliers to panic.  The Celtics may have played their best game of the series, and if Cleveland can figure out a way to steal game two, then the fortune will be in their favor.  

Regardless, the Celtics played some of their best basketball of the season in game one and showed signs of life as the underdogs of this series.  Perhaps taking down LeBron is not an impossible task as shown in game one.

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