The Cavs seem content to rely on their superstars and they should. That's what you do when you assemble a Big Three: surround them with complementary players and give them the ball. Re-watch Game 1, if you can stomach it. Blatt didn't try to win his first bout in the playoffs on the scorecards, peppering as many punches as he could and impressing the judges with jabs. No, every Cav's possession was set up to be a haymaker swung by LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, or Kevin Love. Cleveland would just dribble out the shot clock in the half court, start their offense with 15 seconds left, pass it to one of their stars, and make Boston pick their poison.
For the most part, Brad Stevens elected to try and stomach the body blows from the Big Three and see if the team wouldn't suffer a knock out. Of Cleveland's 82 shots, the Big Three shot 53 of them and more than half of their 33 free throws. The Cavaliers exploded for 113 points and the Celtics loss, but they shouldn't over correct on what seem like mistakes. Offensively, they shot 46.8% (up from their 44.3% mark in the regular season), got to the line 22 times, and hit 8-for-22 from behind the arc. Defensively, while Irving's 30, LeBron's 20, and Love's 19 look bad on paper, the Celtics played them relatively well.
LeBron finished 20-6-7, but he shot an acceptable 8-for-18 against a number of primary defenders. Evan Turner drew him the most and LeBron shot 3-for-6 against him, with one off a break away dunk. Turner was generally able to keep LeBron away from the bucket, but anywhere close to the rim, LeBron finished with ease.
Going into the series, it was thought that Jae Crowder (with maybe Brandon Bass a close second) would be Boston's best chance to contain James because of his combination of size and speed. On Sunday, Crowder proved that maybe Brad should play him more than 23 minutes and more importantly, match him up against James when he's on the floor. LeBron finished 1-for-5 against Crowder, with all four misses coming outside of 20 feet. Much of it was LeBron settling with the team building a double digit lead, but don't be surprised if Stevens goes to Crowder quicker in Game 2.
Turner's playmaking skills were negated by LeBron's aggressive D on Sunday, but at Monday's practice, Turner made it clear that one of the best defenses against LeBron is fatigue. He said, "you have to make him tired and make him defend." For what it's worth, according to SportVU, Turner ran 2.22 miles on Sunday, the longest distance of any Celtic. LeBron often coasted on offense but he still logged 2.51 miles in nearly 42 minutes of play.
And then there's Uncle Drew. Stevens told reporters after the game, "Kyrie, I thought we defended really well on some shots that he just hit. I said this before the game: the ones that you look back on when you're coaching are not the ones where they go Superman on you." Well, Kyrie put on the cape a few times in Game 1 and like Stevens, says you just have to shrug your shoulders and move on to the next play. After the first quarter when Irving scored 8 points attacking the paint, he only shot twice inside of four feet and a handful of his threes were of the hero ball variety. Guys are going to go off once in a while, but Stevens and the Celtics are right to not overreact.
It seems crazy to say, but after a 13-point loss in a game that saw the lead balloon even to 20, Boston shouldn't change much. Yes, the team needs to clean up the defensive glass, but that's another Sophie's Choice that Stevens and the Celtics should choose to stay pat on. With Cleveland's Big Three garnering so much attention and the defense rotating on every double team, there's usually a mismatch on a missed shot. Tristan Thompson and Kevin Love combined for 7 of Cleveland's 15 offensive rebounds, but some of that is a product of Cleveland shooting 31 threes, long rebounds, and dumb luck.
Game 2 should be interesting. At yesterday's media availability, the Celtics seemed content and confident in their Game 1 play and Game 2 preparation. Outside of a few trims around the edges, it sounds like they'll go into tonight's with the same game plan.