Takeaways from Boston's Blowout of Cleveland in Game 1
Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals opened in Boston on Mother's Day and the Celtics absolutely smashed the Cavaliers. The final score was 108-83 and the series will pick up on Tuesday with Game 2. Despite the blowout, there are no meaningless minutes when you get this far into the playoffs. Any success or failure is going to be huge in this series going forward. Here are three big takeaways from game one.
The Celtics are not the Raptors
The Toronto Raptors had a great season, but in that series you never believed they had a chance. The Celtics on the other hand are a real threat. They are not going to allow LeBron James to be comfortable during this series. Anytime he posted up, the Celtics aggressively doubled and when the Celtics switched a smaller player onto him, they were ready to help. Let's look at two plays from the first game.
On this play, the Cavaliers get a switch that leaves Terry Rozier onto LeBron James. James immediately attacks, but Marcus Morris knew he would get to the paint so his eyes never leave LeBron. He is able to get back into the paint and contest James' shot.
This next play shows LeBron again get Rozier onto him and he immediately goes to the paint. Kevin Love makes a nice pass, but before the ball even leaves Love's hands, Jaylen Brown is there and gets a nice deflection. The other thing to notice is that Marcus Morris anticipates Brown's double and is already in motion to Korver to deny him a three. The Celtics' defense is really good.
The Cavaliers have no counter punch
The series with the Indiana Pacers was swung with the introduction of Tristan Thompson into the rotation. The Cavaliers have also changed their starting line-up to go small to maximize their offense. However, I do not see another counter that they can implement. Coach Ty Lue experimented with Jordan Clarkson and Rodney Hood heavily in the first game and they did not get much from them. Both players hit double figures in scoring, but both finished the game with net minuses. The problem with the Celtics is that they do not play anybody that is not a good or great defender. They are long and use their length to bother shots. The one silver lining for the Cavaliers is that they did not shoot well, but part of that is due to the Celtics.
Al Horford is a nightmare for the Cavaliers
Horford’s ability to shoot, pass, and dribble makes it difficult for the Cavaliers to guard him. He is such a threat from anywhere on the court.
Watching this play, you can see that Love stays in the paint on the screen between Horford and Rozier. As Rozier delivers the ball to Horford, Korver closes anticipating the swing to Jaylen Brown, but Horford fakes the pass and attacks the rim before Kevin Love can get in front of him. As LeBron goes for the block, Horford is able to go up and under for the easy lay-up. He had a big game with 20 points, 6 assists, 2 blocks, and 4 rebounds in less than 28 minutes.
Defensively, Horford takes away a great deal of the LeBron James mismatch action he got in the Raptors' series. The Cavaliers took advantage with Horford on the bench.
You can see here that Baynes has no chance to contain LeBron. He gets to the rim easily. I would wager that this will not happen much in this series due to the fact that Brad Stevens will do his best to make sure that Al Horford is out there as much as possible with James in the game.
The Cavaliers' Defense is not good
Defensively, the Cavaliers have been bad for a while, but they have been better in the playoffs. That is due to them slowing down the game somewhat, but the Celtics are disciplined and they will stick to their game plan. That resulted in a great deal of miscommunications from the Cavaliers and open shots for the Celtics.
In this clip you can see that Marcus Morris gets an easy dunk because JR Smith is late to help over the top.
This next play shows Tristan Thompson aggressively hedge on the pick and roll. Jayson Tatum easily throws it to Marcus Smart, who has LeBron James and Rodney Hood guarding three players. Rodney Hood closes on the paint along with a recovering Tristan Thompson leaving Marcus Smart with a wide open pass to Jaylen Brown for the corner three.
While Cleveland is still in this series, they are dealing with a well-coached team that knows who they are and plays to their strengths. This is going to be a very difficult series for the Cavaliers and if game one is any indication, this could be a long series for Cleveland.