The Celtics blew out the Cavaliers in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals Sunday with stifling defense on LeBron James and hustle. A sequence of plays in the first quarter that began with Al Horford forcing James into an ugly baseline jumper and ended with Jaylen Brown coasting to the rim symbolized Boston’s dominance.
James was held in check all afternoon, checking in at minus-32 for the game. Marcus Morris backed up his trash-talk, but got lots of help from his teammates and Brad Stevens’ brilliant defensive scheme. On multiple possessions, the Celtics started with Terry Rozier on James, only to have him switch with Al Horford at the last moment. James couldn’t handle it.
That’s what happened with 3:44 remaining in the first quarter. James put up an ugly jump shot with Horford in his face, and then Brown corralled the rebound into his outstretched arms. From there, Brown picked his way through the Cavaliers’ porous defense, tapping in a layup off the backboard to extend Boston’s lead to 16.
The Celtics exited the period with a 36-18 advantage.
Great transition D by Boston backpedaling early and stacking on the shell to hold off LeBron while keeping Horford in position to either contain a drive or close out to Love trailing. Boston then goes into a ballscreen switch (unnecesarilly) for Tatum v Love and Tatum gets lucky. pic.twitter.com/lBRYjFkfZC
— Jared Weiss (@JaredWeissNBA) May 14, 2018
There are lots of technical explanations for the Celtics’ defensive game plan and why they were able to stifle the Cavaliers from whistle-to-whistle –– outside of a few moments in the third quarter. But to put it simply, they appeared to play harder. Or at least, they did on this play. James didn’t even bother to run back.
Perhaps no player represented the hustle contrast more than Marcus Smart, who picked James’ pocket and boxed out the 6-foot-10 Kevin Love. Prior to the series, WEEI’s John Tomase said Love was the most important player to stop, because containing James is impossible.
Well, the Celtics did both of those things Sunday. James can say he has “zero level of concern” all he wants. But with the way Game 1 unfolded, he has lots of reasons to be worried. That one play told the entire story.
Full article @ LeBron James not playing defense after ugly jumper epitomized Game 1
Source: GreenStreet Blog