The Boston Celtics opened Sunday’s first-round playoff matchup against the Cleveland Cavaliers with one of the best quarters they’ve played all season.
For 12 minutes, the Celtics stuck right with the heavily favored Cavs, receiving 10 points from Kelly Olynyk and another six from Isaiah Thomas to take a four-point lead into the second.
But regardless of what the scoreboard displayed, coach Brad Stevens could see the fall coming.
?Right from the start,” Stevens said after the game, which Cleveland went on to win 113-100. “I said this to (ESPN sideline reporter) Lisa Salters at the end of the first quarter: I was watching the Bucks-Bulls (game) last night, and it was 22-22 with four minutes left in the first. My wife and I were sitting there having dinner, and I said, ?If it?s 22-22 at the four-minute mark in the first, we?re in trouble.? And it was 22-22 at 3:19.”
Stevens’ prediction was dead on.
After a Marcus Smart 3-pointer put the Celtics up eight less than two minutes into the second frame, the Cavs proceeded to score 53 of the next 78 points, swelling their lead to 20. A 14-0 Boston run made things interesting again, but Cleveland followed with a 9-0 run of its own to put its visitors away for good and take a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven series.
The Cavaliers’ multifaceted offensive attack gave the Celtics fits throughout these runs, exploiting Boston’s smaller bigs and need at times to double LeBron James, who finished with 20 points, seven assists and six rebounds. This meant shooters frequently were left open from 3-point range, and the Cavs took full advantage, going 13-for-31 from deep.
?You?re rotating, you?re trapping,” Stevens explained. “I thought we did as good of a job on LeBron as we could have done, but I think (with) those rotations, sometimes you leave Tristan Thompson, and we have to rotate to block out. We have to rotate to challenge shooters. We have to rotate to be there. Obviously, the offensive rebounds and getting outscored at the 3-point line are two huge, critical things. But again, you have to pick your poison a little bit, because that?s a really good team.?
Offensive rebounds were a huge issue for the Celtics, as the Cavs more than doubled them up in that category (15-7). Cleveland owned a 10-1 advantage on the offensive glass in the first half, thanks in large part to the work of Thompson, who grabbed four offensive boards in the win.
Celtics center Kelly Olynyk explained the conundrum of choosing whether to contest for rebounds or get back on defense against a Cleveland team that is highly dangerous in transition.
?It?s kind of a line between are you going to go, or are you going to get back and make sure you (defend) their transition game?” Olynyk said. “You?re trying to do both.”
Of course, there’s also the obvious disparity in size between each team’s respective bigs. Cleveland’s frontcourt trio of Kevin Love, Timofey Mozgov and Thompson combined for 26 rebounds, while Boston’s five power forwards/centers used in the game grabbed a total of 12, including just two of the offensive variety.
?I think (offensive rebounding) is one thing we didn?t emphasize enough coming into the series,” forward Jae Crowder said. “Now that we know what we have to do now, we?re going to take (Monday), look at film, get better, see what we can do better on the rotations blocking those big guys out.
?They?re going to put you in rotation. That?s basketball. They?ve got good offensive players, so they?re going to put you in rotation. But we?ve got to get the guards to come down and get rebounds. When the bigs have got the other bigs locked up, we?ve got to come down and get rebounds. Penetration and making us rotate is part of the game.”
Thumbnail photo via David Richard/USA TODAY Sports Images