Cavs’ big men just ‘phenomenal’

LeBron James reacting in the second half of Game One in Boston, where defending champions Cleveland won 117-104. Cavs coach Tyronn Lue commended him for controlling the tempo and setting the tone early.
LeBron James reacting in the second half of Game One in Boston, where defending champions Cleveland won 117-104. Cavs coach Tyronn Lue commended him for controlling the tempo and setting the tone early.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

James takes charge with 38pts but lauds Love and Thompson for their vital contributions

BOSTON • Any chance of a 10-day layoff hurting the defending National Basketball Association (NBA) champions Cleveland Cavaliers quickly disappeared on Wednesday.

"Starting the game, LeBron really controlled the tempo, really set the tone early," Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue said, after LeBron James scored 15 of his 38 points in the first quarter, as they cruised to a 117-104 victory over the Boston Celtics in the opener of the Eastern Conference finals.

"He's playing at a high level right now, and that's the reason we're riding him so much."

James, looking to advance to his seventh consecutive NBA Finals (the most since Bill Russell in the 1960s) grabbed nine rebounds and seven assists, while posting his seventh straight 30-point game.

He is averaging 34.8 points, 9.0 rebounds and 7.1 assists in the play-offs.

"Amazing, he's better than when I first got into the league," Celtics fourth-year coach Brad Stevens said.

The Cavs, playing their first game since May 7, put on a clinic, leading wire to wire. They built a 26-point lead in the first half, expanding it to 28 - matching the largest home play-off deficit in Celtics history - in the third quarter.

  • -28

  • The Boston Celtics trailed by this margin in the third quarter - matching their worst home play-off deficit.

The Celtics rallied a bit and actually cut their deficit to 11 with the benches cleared in the final minutes. "I don't even think we played that great tonight," James said. "We definitely didn't shoot the ball as well as we're capable of shooting it.

"I think the energy and the effort and mindset was where it needed to be starting on the road, especially in the Eastern Conference finals."

Kevin Love, who hit four three-pointers in the third quarter, scored a career playoff-high 32 points and grabbed 12 rebounds, becoming the first Cav besides James to amass 30 points and 10 rebounds in a play-off game since Brad Daugherty in 1992.

Tristan Thompson also had a career playoff-high 20 points (seven for seven from the floor) and nine rebounds, and Kyrie Irving chipped in 11 points and six assists.

"Tonight was another one of those games where I made a couple of plays to help us get a win, but it was definitely our two bigs (Love and Thompson, who) set the tone," James said. "They were phenomenal."

Lue, a former Celtics assistant, said of Thompson: "He's our energy, he's our motor."

At one point in the third quarter, the Cavs were 28 of 45 from the floor. They finished the game at 48.1 per cent.

Avery Bradley and Jae Crowder led the Celtics with 21 points apiece, while Isaiah Thomas, hounded all night, had 17 points and 10 assists.

Asked if the Celtics had a bit of a letdown after an emotional seven-game series with the Washington Wizards, Thomas said: "I don't think so. They were the better team tonight. They hit us first. They were more physical... on both ends of the floor, and that was the difference."

The win was the Cavaliers' 12th in a row in the playoffs (one shy of matching the NBA record, set by the 1988-89 Los Angeles Lakers), dating back to last year's finals, while the Celtics' five-game home playoff winning streak was stopped.

REUTERS

BOSTON V CLEVELAND

East Finals, Game 2: Singtel TV Ch110, 8.30am

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 19, 2017, with the headline 'Cavs’ big men just ‘phenomenal’'. Print Edition | Subscribe