LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers dismantled the Celtics Wednesday night, thus flipping the switch?
The sample size is too small to give a definitive answer, but the Cavaliers finally looked like themselves. Heading into the matchup for the East’s first overall seed, Cleveland had been reeling defensively, and almost everybody has documented their struggles. They haven’t been the same since the All-Star break, but it’s something that happens year in and year out with a LeBron-led team; he even downplayed the significance of regular season games.
Cleveland hasn’t seemed fazed by their issues, but us on the outside the organization have. Never have any of James’ team looked this bad, even if the switch was off. Before this four-game winning streak, the Cavaliers had dropped three-straight to Washington, San Antonio and Chicago and looked as disjointed as possible.
Boston had overtaken them for the one-seed during their slide, but the meeting on Wednesday was going to be the tiebreaker. And LeBron and the Cavs broke the tie in demoralizing fashion.
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The first quarter was far from indicative of the rest of the game, and the Celtics held a 20-19 lead after the first 12 minutes. Neither offense was great, but this was great news for Cleveland. They have the firepower to have a shootout with anybody, but all that talent gets wasted when the other half of the floor is played with numerous lapses and constant mental errors. Isaiah Thomas got loose for 12 in the frame, but, overall, Boston shot just 38.1 percent from the field and got blasted on the glass by a Cavaliers team who was without Tristan Thompson. Kevin Love pulled in eight boards by himself, and Cleveland was plus-eight on the backboards after one (19-11).
With an intimidating field goal percentage of 25.9, Cleveland’s offense was about as bad as it was against the Spurs. They got up 27 shots — 11 of them came from three — but only one of their seven makes got assisted. Regardless, the starters did a tremendous job locking up on defense, and it was the bench who didn’t show up.
That production got flipped on its head in the second, and LeBron went into Zero Dark 23 mode while taking his bench along for the ride. He tallied 15 in the frame, but it was those around him doing all of the little things which reminded us that the Cavs are really deadly when they’re firing on all cylinders.
Deron Williams handed out four assists while playing excellent defense alongside Iman Shumpert, Richard Jefferson and Kyle Korver. Boston’s bench had a myriad of issues with doing anything right and imploded on themselves when Brad Stevens sent them out there. Six Celtics got playing time off the bench in the second, and Gerald Green (plus-two) was the only one with a positive plus-minus. Marcus Smart was minus-22, and Kelly Olynyk, Jonas Jerebko and Terry Rozier were all minus-13, minus-14 and minus-14, respectively.
Cleveland’s small lineup gave Boston fits for the entire second and waxed the Garden floor with them. Even with James’ 15, his cohorts combined for 23 of their own and shot 64 percent from the field. The ball was hopping around like the Spurs and Warriors had created some mutant offspring, and the crisp passing forced the Cavaliers not to launch reckless threes — well, every Cavalier except for J.R. Smith. Keep shooting your shot, J.R.!
Just eight of Cleveland’s 25 field goals came from outside the arc, and they managed to keep their stranglehold on the glass despite Love and Channing Frye hardly getting any minutes.
The energy and intensity on defense were still there, and guys actually looked like they wanted to get stops. That didn’t look like the case for many of the previous games, and the Celtics mustered just 22 points on 36.4 percent from the field.
Boston’s one-point lead got turned into a 15-point deficit quickly. Just from the first half, it’s clear that Cavaliers are attempting to turn it back on and it’s conveniently right before playoff time.
Quarter number three was the nail in the coffin. The Cavaliers took their foot off the gas defensively, but by no means did they just let the Celtics waltz around and put the ball in the basket. Guys were still giving effort, but Boston was slowly getting back in rhythm and got their shooting clip back into the 40s while hanging 24 points. Cleveland, however, was still feeling it offensively and got much looser with their shot selection.
After shooting 19 triples in the first half, the Cavaliers shot 12 in the third because why not. Forcing them to shoot from the outside isn’t ideal, but you can get away with it if they’re missing. They weren’t missing. And Boston didn’t get away with it. En route to their 33-point period, Cleveland nailed five of their threes and extended their lead to 24.
At this point, maybe take out all of the starters and see if the reserves can hold it down.
For roughly half of the fourth, Tyronn Lue kept his starters out there, and LeBron logged more minutes than anyone else that frame. He spent 7:56 on the floor, and it was clear that Lue didn’t want to risk anything happening down the stretch, and James was the stopper of any action. It worked well, and Cleveland got their lead to cut by just one point when it was all said and done.
The manner in which the Cavaliers won is far greater than them winning. They went to Boston, sucked the life out of the Celtics and the arena and wanted everyone to know that it’s their conference and they’re just living in it.
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