BOSTON — After not playing a game in 10 days, many believed the Cleveland Cavaliers would be rusty heading into Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals against the Boston Celtics.
LeBron James didn’t get the memo.
The Cavaliers star came out firing Wednesday night at TD Garden, scoring 15 points on 7-of-8 shooting in the first quarter. James and Co. wouldn’t look back, cruising to a 117-104 rout of the Celtics to take a 1-0 series lead.
James looked like a man possessed in the opening 12 minutes, imposing his will on a Celtics defense that had no answers for the three-time NBA champion. And as a postseason veteran, James knew what he had to do to get his team going.
“I think that’s the mindset that you have to have when you go on the road for a Game 1,” James said after the game. “You can’t just start the game off lax or shooting a bunch of jump shots. That’s my mindset. I have to be in attack mode and just put the pressure on the defense and see what happens. I was able to do that and kind of just set the tone early on what we needed to do.”
The Celtics threw multiple defensive looks at James in the first quarter, but the change in personnel didn’t affect his style of play, as Boston head coach Brad Stevens attested to after the game.
“(James) made it clear,” Stevens said. “It was very clear that he was trying to get to the rim on us, no matter who was on him.”
James’ offensive onslaught in the first quarter clearly took the wind out of the Celtics’ sails. His pace and effortless scoring left Boston scratching its head on defense, which was a theme throughout Game 1. Cavs head coach Tyronn Lue knows how important it is for his star player to get off to a hot start, which James seemingly has been doing throughout the 2017 NBA playoffs.
“He’s playing at a high level right now, and that’s the reason why we’re riding him so much,” Lue said of James. “He’s really setting the tone for us in these playoffs. It started the second half of the season. I really thought he hit a great stride offensively, and it’s carried over into the playoffs.”
It seemed as though the Celtics went up and down their roster looking for a player to try and slow James down. And regardless of who covered him, James still was able to score or create a play for one of his teammates. The 32-year-old was prepared for anything Boston threw at him, which was evidenced in the Cavaliers highly efficient offense Wednesday night.
“I pretty much know how many guys I’m going to see throughout the course of the game,” James said. “I know the guy that’s going to start on me. I know the guy that’s going to shift onto me if a sub happens or if they go small or if they go big. For me, the only thing on my mind is how we can execute the best way we can and get a bucket on this possession. Either if I can get myself a shot, or if I can drive, get my shooters a shot, or if I can get a double-team in the paint or get to the free throw line.”
James had his way with the Celtics in Game 1, and it looks like that might be the case throughout the series.
Thumbnail photo via Bob DeChiara/USA TODAY Sports Images