Celtics withstand big game from LeBron James to take 2-0 lead over Cavaliers
BOSTON — Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens said Cleveland would come with a heavyweight punch in Game 2.
The Cavaliers did, and the Celtics withstood those punches. LeBron James had 21 points in the first quarter, and the Cavs led by as many as 11 in the first half.
But the resilient Celtics stuck to what they do best: defend. That defense led to offense in the second half, and Boston defeated the Cavaliers 107-94 in Game 2 on Tuesday, taking a 2-0 series lead in the Eastern Conference finals.
Right now, the Celtics are the better team with better offense and defense, younger legs, more energy and more answers. Boston has outhustled Cleveland, too.
If the Cavs are going to reach the NBA Finals for the fourth consecutive season and James is going to play in his eighth consecutive Finals, they need to win four of the next five games, including at least one in Boston where the Celtics are 9-0 in the postseason.
Don’t forget: The Celtics are without the injured Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving, and they are two victories away from their first Finals appearance since 2010.
Game 3 isn’t until Saturday (8:30 p.m ET, ESPN).
"We have an opportunity to go back home, protect home court," James said. "We're going to use these days to really dive in on what needs to be done to help our ballclub be successful. They did what they had to do, and that was protect home, and now it's our time to try to do that, as well."
Here are three key factors to the Celtics' Game 2 victory:
Third quarter the difference
The Celtics trailed 55-48 at halftime, but turned a seven-point deficit into a seven-point lead, outscoring Cleveland 36-22 in the third quarter.
""We gave ourselves a pretty good chance with 36 minutes, and that 12 minutes in the third quarter, that killed us," James said.
Boston made 14 of 25 shots, including shooting 5-for-10 on three-pointers, and held Cleveland to 9-for-22 shooting. Cleveland’s misses led to easy offense for the Celtics
After scoring just two points in the first half, Terry Rozier scored 14 of his 18 points in the third quarter. Five Celtics players had least four points in the quarter.
James bounces back, doesn’t get enough help
James called Game 1 a feel-out game, to learn how the Celtics would defend him.
James entered Game 2 with a predisposition to score. He went 8-for-13 from the field, including 4-for-7 on three-pointers in the first quarter.
He left the game with 3:48 left in the second quarter after taking an accidental Jayson Tatum shoulder to the head. ESPN’s Doris Burke reported James sustained a strained neck, and he returned to the game with 1:57 left in the half.
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James, who hasn’t been down 2-0 in an Eastern Conference series since 2008 against the Celtics, finished with 42 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds. It was his 22nd triple-double and his 24th career playoff game with at least 40 points – and fifth this postseason.
But the Celtics appear fine with James scoring that much as long they make him work for his points and as long as Cleveland’s other players don’t do damage. Kevin Love had 22 points and 15 rebounds, and Kyle Korver had 11 points – all in the first half.
J.R. Smith went scoreless (0-for-7), Jeff Green had six points and George Hill just three points.
"The biggest thing is we're just trying to make it as hard as possible," Stevens said of defending James. "And I think that we all have a good grasp on that that's not always going to work, so don't hang your head, go down and score. And then if you can make it as hard as possible for as long as possible, maybe you can get somewhere."
Not afraid of the moment
The Celtics start a 21-year-old second-year guard (Jaylen Brown), a 20-yeard-old rookie (Tatum) and 24-year-old point guard (Rozier) who started the season as a backup and moved into the starting lineup when Irving needed season-ending knee surgery.
But they have been Boston’s best two-way players early in the series.
“We do have some guys that have been through these young playoff series, albeit a lot less of them, but we do feel like even in the last month, we've been through a lot of different challenges,” Stevens said before Game 2. “For a guy like Jayson Tatum, all those challenges are new, but they're fresh in his mind, and at the end of the day, when you're a basketball player, you step out there between the lines, you've got a job to do, you've prepared well to do that, and you just go play.”
Brown had 23 points and seven rebounds, and Tatum scored nine of his 11 points in the second quarter, keeping Boston within a manageable deficit. Rozier had five rebounds to go along with his 18 points.