After Game 1 Loss, How Will the Celtics Slow Down LeBron
The 117-104 final score in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals did little justice to the domination meted out by LeBron James and the Cavaliers. Finding an answer for everything the Celtics threw his way, James filled the stat sheet with 38 points, 9 rebounds and 7 assists. In winning his 12th straight playoff game dating back to the 2016 postseason, it was hard for anyone watching, not to think that it’s only a matter of time before the Cavs are playing for their 2nd championship in three years.
Going into Game 2 in Boston and losing their home-court advantage, how does Boston go about trying to slow down LeBron and even the series up at one game each?
1) Throw multiple players at him
LeBron is matchup nightmare for obvious reasons. Put a smaller defender on him and James uses his size and strength to take them into the post or simply shoot over them. Put a bigger body out to guard him and LeBron can use his quickness to either get to the cup or be distributor for a spot-up shooter like Kyle Korver or Kevin Love. Defending LeBron definitely has a pick-your-poison variety to it.
In theory, small forward Jae Crowder should draw most of the assignment versus James. Crowder does have the size to at least make it harder for James to get in to the paint. Boston could then follow that up with Avery Bradley taking his turn when Cleveland has LeBron handling the ball. Even a scrappy, physical player like Marcus Smart figures to have more success than the likes of Gerald Green and Jaylen Brown Wednesday night.
2) Watch the rotations
As mentioned before, James is a great passer for his size and is adept at taking over the game with his passing just as much as his scoring. Once Boston made adjustments coming out of halftime, LeBron simply helped Kevin Love go off in the 3rd quarter by seizing on Boston’s inability to find the open man in their defensive scrambles.
If you double LeBron, you have to be disciplined enough to find the open man and, at the very least, make the shooter take a contested shot. From their Game 1 performance, Boston looked every bit the more fatigued of the two teams, constantly falling one step behind on their rotations.
3) Make him earn it
Barring some type of injury, no one is going to bottle up LeBron; Boston simply doesn’t have anyone on the roster who can put the clamps down on James. It’s paramount for Boston’s benefit, the need to make him earn every shot and free throw he takes.
Every time James gets to the lane, there needs to be a body on him, regardless if a foul is called or not. If a Celtic is matched up with him on the outside, you need to contest every shot as best you can. For all the things that went wrong in the Game 1 loss, letting James taking shots without a hand in his face or by being passive in the lane, only makes his impact on the game that much greater.
Boston will have a tough time getting back into this series, if Game 1 was any indicator of what the rest of the games will look like. Over the course of the year, the Celtics have proved to a resilient group and they will need all of that and more if they hope to slow down James and the Cavaliers.