Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Boston Celtics: Game Two Recap and Analysis
The performance of LeBron James in game two was as good as advertised. However, it wasn’t enough to lift the deflated Cleveland Cavaliers as they were defeated by the Boston Celtics 107-94 in game two. The Celtics now lead 2-0 in the series and are still undefeated at home in 2018 playoffs.
Six Celtic players finished in double figures including Jaylen Brown who had 23 points and seven rebounds and Terry Rozier who had 18 points and led the team’s third-quarter rally. James stole the show for the Cavaliers and finished with 42 points 10 rebounds and 12 assists.
James came out of the gate on a mission, scoring 21 points in the first quarter. Boston was able to limit the damage and keep the deficit to a minimum for a majority of the first half.
Just as Cleveland was on the precipice of taking a significant lead in the second quarter, James took a hard shot to the head from Jayson Tatum on a loose ball, suffering what ESPN sideline reporter Dorris Burke called a ‘neck strain.’
After James carefully walked to the locker room — and few minutes of panic ensued — he returned to the game a few minutes later. Boston struggled to get going offensively but kept the Cavs within arms reach, trailing 55-48 at the half.
With Rozier leading the charge, the Celtics turned the game around in second half. Boston was able to limit LeBron’s freedom offensively and take advantage of a few Cavalier turnovers, outscoring them 36-22 in the quarter.
The Boston Celtics continued their success early in the fourth, winning numerous loose balls, but James continued to chip away at their lead. Despite LeBron’s heroics, the Cavaliers imploded in the final few minutes, capped off with J.R. Smith’s flagrant foul on Horford that led to a five-point play.
The Cleveland Cavaliers Have Been Outworked
To put it directly, the Celtics played harder than the Cavaliers in games one and two. Marcus Smart’s effort stood out in particular. Check out these two plays he made in the fourth quarter:
This Marcus Smart effort literally made me gasp pic.twitter.com/pfTRI9qbqF
— BBALLBREAKDOWN (@bballbreakdown) May 16, 2018
Travel aside from Tatum, serious hustle by Smart pic.twitter.com/joqrMOUkqR
— BBALLBREAKDOWN (@bballbreakdown) May 16, 2018
The Cleveland Cavaliers were notably careless with their defensive rotations too. Numerous times they fell asleep off-the-ball, resulting in an open three-point attempt from the Celtics. And to cap it off, no one attempted to close-out on most of these shots, which was indicative of where this Cavalier team was at in terms of their effort.
On the other hand, the Celtics played with an unquantifiable level of energy. Operating with complete freedom, their ball-movement on offense kept everyone involved and resulting in more effectiveness on the other end of the floor.
LeBron’s Injury Changed Game Two
The turning point in the game was when LeBron James went to the locker room in the middle of the second-quarter. Immediately after his return, the Boston Celtics went on a mini-run. They continued that momentum into the third quarter. This is where they ultimately won the game.
James still played great after his neck/head injury. Although, his stoic demeanor in the second half wasn’t a great sign from someone who may have suffered a concussion.
He was far less aggressive in the second half and barely showed any emotion on the floor. Was this the result of potential grogginess, or was he just dejected after the game slipped away? Either way, this is something to monitor ahead of game three. The good news for Cleveland: there is a four-day layoff until then.
Looking Ahead to Game Three
There’s certainly blueprint out there where the Cavaliers can win game three and four. First, LeBron has to play like he did in game two. If he doesn’t, you might as well pencil in a sweep.
Obviously, the Cavaliers have to improve their overall energy-level, but they really have to key-in on limiting the number of sloppy rotations on defense. This has been a year-long problem for Cleveland. The defense was always that they would try harder and ‘flip the switch’ in the playoffs. Well, it’s time to flip that switch.
As good as LeBron James has been, the Cavaliers should also tinker with more off-ball sets involving Kevin Love and Kyle Korver. A few times in games one and two the Boston Celtics had trouble defending plays involving a Korver-Love off-ball two-man game.
Korver — an amazing off-ball player — and Love — a good screener and high-IQ player — are a match made in heaven. Despite that, the Cavaliers haven’t run many of these plays all season. Thus, they should look to get both of them more involved in game three.
The series is far from over for the Cavaliers. By now LeBron James has proven that he can never be counted out in the Eastern Conference. That being said, Cleveland’s margin for error is infinitesimal.
It’s safe to say Boston is the more talented team, and a better-coached team at this point in the series. The Cleveland Cavaliers will have some serious kinks to work out before game three this Saturday, as their season is on the line.