There was a moment during Sunday’s game between the Celtics and Cavaliers during which, if you squinted hard enough, you could start to make out the vague outline of a Game 1 upset. The Celtics—a well-coached team with nothing to lose that rode into the playoffs on a wave of good vibes—were spacing the floor, running crisp offensive sets, giving the Cavs all they could handle. With 9:06 left to play in the second quarter, Boston was up 38-31 and shooting 58 percent from the floor. You could see it in front of you: a spirited run from the Celtics to push the lead into double digits going into half, low but not insignificant groans of panic spreading across Cleveland, and David Blatt staring blankly out at the court. “Uh oh,” one might have said at the end of all that. “The Cavs might be in a bit of trouble.” But that never happened, because Kyrie Irving didn’t let it.
Irving scored 12 points in the final nine minutes of the second quarter, each of them coming by way of some downright silly three-point shots.
Irving’s last shot of the half, a pull-up three at the buzzer which left Evan Turner considering a new profession, put the Cavs up 62-54 and effectively ended the game. The Celtics would never regain the lead, and Irving would continue to eat them up, dropping another 13 points in the second half to finish with 30 for the game. Here’s where we pause to remember that this was Irving’s first career playoff game, and that just a few months ago the 23-year-old was saying stuff like this:
Starting one’s playoff career the way Irving did yesterday is no small feat, but it was exactly the kind of performance LeBron James probably visualized when he decided to come to Cleveland. The Celtics presented a pretty big hump at the start of yesterday’s game, but instead of having to light the tires and drag his team over it, as he has so many times in the past, James was able to sit back and let Irving take charge. Hell, even Kevin Love, who started shooting 2-of-11 from the floor, did his thing with 13 points and six rebounds in the second half. Meanwhile, James got to coast his way to a low-intensity 20-7-6 line.
James’s early season struggles proved that he isn’t the inexhaustible demigod that he might have been when he was 25, and his previous postseason failures have shown him that trying to rampage his way through an entire postseason campaign is a recipe for failure. If the Cavs want to have a real shot at winning the title, they’re going to need to make sure LeBron isn’t in shambles by June. Relying on Irving and Love to take over and push the team through some early round playoff games is the best way to accomplish that goal, and so yesterday’s game was a big step for the Cavaliers. For now, at least, everything is going according to plan.