By MyFM's Jake Archer - Maybe, just maybe, we should stop doubting that the Celtics are for real. Despite being underdogs again, they keep coming up huge. On Sunday in Boston, they absolutely stomped out LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers with a 108-83 win in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals. The C's have faced off with LeBron in these types of situations many times before and I can't ever recall a game like this one. The young Celtics mauled a weak Cavaliers team and even the greatest player on the planet (not named Michael Jordan) couldn't do a thing about it.
I was lucky enough to be in attendance on Sunday afternoon and the atmosphere was electric. You could feel the confidence permeating throughout the building even before tip-off and I honestly think that pushed this Celtics team to come out firing. The pre-game pump-up gave everyone goosebumps as the team played a video chronicling the season and showing how many talking heads counted them out after key injuries. All of the injured Celtics like Gordon Hayward, Kyrie Irving, Daniel Theis and Shane Larkin were showing support on the sideline.
In hindsight, the Cavs never really stood a chance. Boston punched them in the mouth early by taking an aggressive and fast-moving approach. At one point in the first, Boston scored 17 points and they led by as many as 21. They entered the second up 36-18, the second largest playoff lead after one quarter in the franchise's history, and they certainly weren't letting their foot off of the gas.
In the second, things stayed in the C's favor. The Cavaliers were missing shots left and right (they'd miss their first 14 shots from behind the arc and shoot only 32% in the first half) and Boston was building on the lead. At the half it was 61-35, which was good for the biggest halftime deficit James had ever faced in the playoffs. The Cavs just looked disjointed and the only people that were helping LeBron at all were the referees. Somehow though, the one thing I said at halftime was that we'd better be ready for James to make a furious charge and tighten the game up. As much as I don't like him, I've seen what he can do and I was picturing a third quarter filled with turnaround jumpers and chase-down blocks.
To my surprise, that thought never really came true. Sure, the Cavaliers made the game closer with some better shooting and a few runs in the third, but LeBron didn't really ever get going. He was frustrated and by the time the fourth quarter rolled around, the Celtics were ready to take the game and put it away. They did, and by the time there was about seven minutes left to play, the Cavaliers had given up. The last few minutes felt like we were watching a scrimmage as most of the starters had been removed from the game. In the end, the C's had the big victory and the Garden was going nuts. This idea that the young, upstart Celtics could dethrone "King James" now seemed like a real possibilty. What a great feeling it was.
The high-scorer for the game was actually Boston's Marcus Morris, who has been labeled "The LeBron Stopper" and got the start over Aron Baynes. Obviously that's foolish because no one actually can stop LeBron, but Morris has been the best in the last couple of years according to statistics. Morris scored 21 on Sunday while grabbing 10 rebounds and having a +25 rating. It's just impressive that he was able to fill it up on the offensive end and record a double-double (his first in the postseason) with all the good work he was puttting in to play defense. The other Celtics regulars all had great games as well, with Jayson Tatum, Al Horford and Jaylen Brown scoring in double figures and Terry Rozier, Marcus Smart and Baynes contributing in a multitude of ways. The whole bench saw some run due to the nature of the blowout.
I know everything was going their way on Sunday but I just have to say that I've never seen anything like this Celtics team. The culture that Brad Stevens has built is amazing and they show such poise and confidence. Most teams cower in the face of LeBron (take a look at the Toronto Raptors) but Boston just has zero fear. It's exciting for right now and for the future of the franchise. With Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown looking like much older, developed players and Al Horford throwing that "Average Al" crap right back in everyone's face, it's hard not to get fired up.
Meanwhile, LeBron really did have possibly his worst playoff game ever. He scored just 15 points and was a -32 on the court while coughing up seven of the nine Cleveland turnovers (he had just eight in the previous series). His teammate were pretty much all putrid as well with everyone except for Cedi Osman having a negative plus/minus. The only other Cavs to score double digit points besides LeBron were Kevin Love, Jordan Clarkson and Rodney Hood. I hate to get out ahead of myself, but this team is just trash. The coaching and the supporting cast are abysmal and if LeBron somehow wins this series, it might be one of his top 2 or 3 achievements ever. It's a different dynamic than when they beat on the C's during the regular season, and it showed.
Tonight, the teams will tip-off in Game 2 at 8:30 p.m. Despite feeling great with Game 1, we need to see another Celtics win to protect home court and stay perfect in Boston through the playoffs. I know they'll be focused because they seem to never be satisfied and they are always ready for the task at hand. They believe they can win and they'll do all of their talking on the court. The four-time NBA MVP and three-time champion LeBron James will be ready to punch back though. He's never been good in Game 1s and says that he has "zero level of concern." Look for him to play well and Boston to have to weather the storm. Check back here for your recap and enjoy the game!