LeBron James was going to get his Tuesday night, but the key for the Boston Celtics was going to be limiting the rest of the Cleveland Cavaliers.
For one half, it looked like that was going to be a struggle, but everything changed after halftime.
The Cavs built a first-half lead in large part thanks to James’ 21 first-quarter points. But Cleveland also got (some) secondary scoring out of its role players, most notably Kyle Korver. The sharp-shooter found his touch in the second quarter, hitting four of five shots while going 2-for-2 from 3-point range to enter the locker room with 11 first-half points.
Normally, that alone is enough for Cleveland to win. The Cavs entered Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals with a 6-0 record in the playoffs when Korver scored more than 10 points. In the regular season, they went 23-8 when he hit double figures.
But the Celtics obviously were able to buck that trend Tuesday night, in large part thanks to stifling second-half defense on James, Korver and the rest of the Cleveland roster. Boston completely held Korver off the score sheet in the second half, largely by limiting his chances. Korver attempted just three second-half shots — all 3-pointers — and missed all three.
“I thought our guys did a really good job of weathering the initial storm,” Celtics head coach Brad Stevens told reporters after the game. “Obviously, LeBron was incredible in the first half, and then they got some good actions with (Kevin) Love and (Kyle) Korver. Korver in the first and then Love with the Love-Korver little tandem screens they have going on on the left side of the floor that hurt us. We’ve got to improve on some of that stuff, but it’s all about responding.”
It’s not just Korver, either. The Cavs obviously are a much better team when shooting from deep. It’s the perfect complement to a player like James, who can get into the lane, draw defenders and dish to waiting shooters on the perimeter. But the Celtics know that, and no team was better at defending the 3-pointer this season than Boston. Cleveland’s pedestrian 10-for-31 from deep in Game 2 was actually a huge improvement on its 4-for-26 showing in the series opener.
“They’re going to make their runs. They’re going to have their moments,” Stevens admitted.
To the Celtics’ credit, they limited the Cavs’ moments more than enough to head to Cleveland owning a 2-0 series lead.