With a 99-91 win, orchestrated by LeBron James and Kyrie Irving in the fourth quarter, the Cleveland Cavaliers take a 2-0 lead in their playoff series with the Boston Celtics, although they haven’t been as convincing as expected.
Maybe it simply comes with exaggerated expectations. The same expectations that people had of the Cavs after their offseason changes, followed by a disappointing first half to the season. Things changed, and the Cavaliers were arguably the best team in the NBA during the second half of the season, which included wins over the Warriors and Spurs; proof enough that they’re the real thing.
The Celtics aren’t exactly falling over backwards to make it easy for them, but they’re comfortable to handle. Having no outside threat to offer makes it easy for the Cavaliers to defend. The Celtics shot just 27.3% from beyond the arc, which is pretty consistent with their numbers in the regular season. The Cavaliers were only 7-of-29, but that is just a bad day for them, not the norm.
Isaiah Thomas is the only player giving the Cavaliers problems. Maybe Kelly Olynyk as well, and the Canadian big man deserves more minutes on the floor, but the Cavs aren’t actually worried about him. It’s more worrying for them to see just seven points overall from their bench players. As David Blatt said, this doesn’t need to be a James-only production.
It did look that way in the fourth quarter. James finished with 30 points, 9 rebounds and 7 assists. Kyrie Irving played the dutiful sidekick, scoring 26 points. J.R. Smith was having a bad shooting day (3-of-12 from the field) but did end up with 5 steals and was part of a defensive effort that has made things difficult for the Celtics so far in this series.
The surprise element this time was Timofey Mozgov with 16 points, 7 rebounds and 5 blocks. Until Boston finds a way to draw him a bit away from the basket, and Olynyk might be an answer to that, it’s going to be very difficult finding ways to score consistently in the paint or stretch out the Cavs’ defense. Right now they don’t seem to be afraid of anything, and won’t get too bothered by Thomas scoring 22 points.
This wasn’t a big 3 effort like in game 1. Kevin Love scored just 13 points, shooting just 3-of-8 from the field and 1-of-5 from beyond the arc. Love can still play and put up the numbers we were used to from him in Minnesota, but games like this, more or less, are much more likely. Whether or not it’s better for the Cavaliers to have him in a restricted role, it might affect his decision regarding his future with the team in the offseason, although how far they make it in the playoffs is probably the biggest concern.
Unless we’ve got it all wrong, and the difficulties experienced by the Cavs through the first couple of games can be attributed to coasting. Maybe the Cavaliers seem so certain that the combination of James and Irving is unstoppable, or at least impossible to contain for the Celtics, that they’re not worried about the upcoming road games, and the signs of this series being a lot closer than the 2-0 headline suggests.