Somehow, Marcus Smart, Kelly Olynyk, and Avery Bradley were not enough to stop the Cleveland Cavaliers or even slow them down very much. The final score was not that imposing, as the Cavs won just 117-104, but Cleveland emotionally disemboweled the Celtics early and turned the entire second half into a soggy exhibition. The Celtics always stood a slim chance of advancing past LeBron James and the Cavs, but their shellshocked play tonight showed just how big the gulf between the two teams is.
As usual, the Cavs’ dominance started with LeBron. James scored 25 in a perfect first half, and the Celtics made just enough shots to force him to continue mauling them on both ends of the floor in the second. After burying Boston in a first-half hole that tied a franchise record for the largest halftime playoff deficit at home, Cleveland was ready to chill. Kevin Love had a great night shooting the ball and keeping Al Horford in check, and Tristan Thompson was a terror in the skies, but it seemed that every possession looked like this.
LeBron got into the lane whenever he wanted and the Celtics didn’t have anyone capable of slowing him down. Isaiah Thomas throwing himself into LeBron’s crotch in vain is a neat encapsulation of the Celtics’ night on defense.
Getting owned by freight-train LeBron isn’t unexpected, but the way that the Cavs stunted on the Celtics was a bit of a surprise. LeBron basically laughed at Kelly Olynyk when the Canadian got switched onto him, clearly wasted time with six-plus minutes left in the game when he’d get the ball on the perimeter, and even hinted that he could have done more. When Isaiah did a little chest puffing with Kyrie Irving, Irving laughed and pointed at the scoreboard. The Cavs had no time for the Celtics and do not seem to respect their small green opponents. Smart can huff and puff all he wants, but this is a dreadful matchup for Boston, and LeBron and pals know it.
Thomas had 17 points and 10 assists tonight, but he looked out of his depth in a way he hasn’t throughout the playoffs. Not only did LeBron’s omnipresence give him the jitters, he even got spooked by Tristan Thompson. Where he’d plunge into the lane in series past, he hesitated and opted for pull-ups instead of aggressive drives. There was a moment in the fourth quarter when Thompson was under the basket and Thomas pulled up all the way out at the free throw line.
Jaylen Brown looked comfortable tonight, and Gerald Green accomplished some productive basketball tasks, but neither of them solve the Celtics’ biggest problem, which is that LeBron James is a cyborg god from space and Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson control all airspace in the key. If Al Horford shows up and the Celtics’ cast of supporting characters make almost every open three, sure, they could steal a game or three. But this series does not feel like a close one, and the Cavs are playing like it.