Celtics’ Defense Kept LeBron James In Check In Huge Game 1 Win Vs. Cavs

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Eastern conference finals

Photo via David Butler II/USA TODAY Sports

BOSTON — LeBron James had one of the worst performances of his NBA playoff career Sunday afternoon at TD Garden.

The Cleveland Cavaliers forward scored just 15 points on 5-for-16 shooting (0-for-5 from 3-point range), which helped the Boston Celtics take Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals with an impressive 108-83 win.

James primarily was guarded by Celtics forward Marcus Morris, who did a nice job being physical with the Cavs superstar and contesting his shots.

“I thought they had a great game plan Game 1,” James said. “(Morris) was the start of it. He was my matchup, and I think they did a great job of communicating throughout the whole game, knowing where I was and knowing where our teammates was.

“Brad (Stevens) and the coaching staff did a great job in Game 1. You commend that. We have an opportunity to look at a lot of film (Monday), and see ways they were making us uncomfortable, making myself off balance and not have a rhythm all game. So we’ll be much better in Game 2.”

Sunday was James’ 289th career playoff game, and this contest was one of just 12 during which he scored 15 or fewer points.

The Celtics came into the series knowing James wouldn’t be shut down. He was averaging 34.4 points, 10 rebounds and 7.7 assists per game in the playoffs entering Game 1.

The objective is to make life difficult for him. That means contesting shots, helping on defense when he gets a mismatch off a pick-and-roll, playing him physical on drives to the paint and quickly moving your feet so he can’t attack the rim off the dribble so easily.

For the most part, the C’s accomplished these objectives in Game 1.

“I mean, LeBron is LeBron. He is going to make some crazy plays and he’s going to do what he does,” Celtics guard Terry Rozier said.

“We are just going to try to make it as tough for him as we can. The other guys, obviously, (Kevin) Love and J.R. Smith, we don’t want to give them open looks, Kyle Korver, people like that. So we have to take that away, too. That has been a big emphasis the last couple of days. We did a good job and we just have to keep it up.”

One way the Celtics were able to limit James’ teammates offensively was they didn’t need to double-team James very often. Morris, Jaylen Brown and Semi Ojeleye are strong enough to body him in the low post without getting overmatched, and they also have enough quickness to stay with him well enough on the perimeter and drives to the rim.

It also helps that Boston has a very versatile lineup, especially when Al Horford is at center, and can easily switch on just about every pick-and-roll.

James played poorly in Game 1. There’s no doubt about that. But if we know anything about James, it’s unlikely he struggles that much again in Game 2, and the Celtics know they have to be better.

“You just have to keep making it as hard as possible on LeBron. Easier said than done. He’s obviously not going to have many games like that,” Celtics head coach Brad Stevens said.

“Their shooters around him won’t have many games like that. But I thought our guys were locked in, and we’re just going to have to be that again on Tuesday night.”

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