BOSTON — Isaiah Thomas sets the tone offensively for the Celtics, so when the veteran guard isn’t scoring 20-plus points, it’s often difficult for Boston to win.
Thomas, who finished second in the NBA in scoring during the regular season, poured in just 17 points during Boston’s 117-104 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals on Wednesday night. The C’s have lost three of the last four playoff games in which Thomas has scored fewer than 20 points.
Thomas said the Cavs didn’t surprise him with any new defensive schemes. He just needs to make shots.
“They played how they played throughout the season. I just missed shots, didn’t get a rhythm,” Thomas said. “But next game, I’ll definitely be more aggressive to make plays, get in the paint and make stuff happen. But they didn’t do anything like the (Washington) Wizards were doing or what the (Chicago) Bulls were doing. They kind of played how they normally play.”
Celtics coach Brad Stevens saw much of the same from the Cavs’ defense on Thomas.
“It’s what you saw on film coming in,” Stevens said. “You know you’re going to get trapped. You know the blitz is going to come. I thought we were way better in the third and fourth quarter at playing with spacing around him and getting out of the play immediately, and then the ball started really spraying around.”
Thomas is going to face constant double teams in this series, and it’s up to Boston’s perimeter shooters to take advantage and knock down their open looks. That didn’t happen in Game 1, as the C’s shot 12-for-38 from 3-point range. Thomas, Al Horford and Avery Bradley combined for a 5-for-18 mark from beyond the arc.
Thomas has to play better, but the overall offensive team performance must also improve. If other guys are hitting their shots, the Cavs likely will be a little more hesitant to trap Thomas and collapse in the paint when he attacks the rim. That would make everyone else’s job easier for the Celtics.
Here are some other notes from Celtics-Cavs Game 1.
— The Cavs had a 15-4 edge in rebounds to begin the game and finished with a 32-27 advantage.
— Cleveland’s starters outscored Boston’s 103-70. Cavaliers forwards LeBron James and Kevin Love combined for 70 points and 21 rebounds. The last pair of teammates to score 30 or more points in a playoff game in Boston were Elgin Baylor and Jerry West for the Los Angeles Lakers during the 1966 NBA Finals.
— James got to the paint at will. He scored 23 first-half points and made 10 of his 12 shots in the paint through two quarters.
— James scored a game-high 38 points. It was his 17th 30-point game against the Celtics in the playoffs. Lakers legend Jerry West has the most such games with 25.
— Celtics center Kelly Olynyk was the hero in Boston’s Game 7 win over the Wizards in Round 2, but he struggled Wednesday night with just two points on 1-for-6 shooting in 16 minutes.
— C’s guard Gerald Green scored 11 points on 4-for-6 shooting in 14 minutes. A good portion of it came in garbage time, but his scoring ability could result in him starting in Game 2. He started a few games in Round 1 versus the Chicago Bulls when Boston struggled to score.
— Celtics forward Jae Crowder gave one of his best performance of the playoffs. He scored 21 points on 8-for-13 shooting, including a 4-for-6 mark from 3-point range. Crowder also grabbed eight rebounds and dished out five assists.
— Cleveland shot 28-for-35 from the foul line. Boston shot just 18 free throws and missed eight.
— The Celtics trailed by 22 points at halftime. It was their largest halftime deficit in a home playoff game in franchise history.
Thumbnail photo via Greg M. Cooper/USA TODAY Sports Images