LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers walked into the Eastern Conference finals against the Boston Celtics as the favorites to advance to the NBA Finals, but Sunday’s Game 1 didn’t go as planned for the three-time defending conference champions.
The Celtics were the better team from the opening tip, dominating Cleveland in every aspect en route to a 108-83 win at TD Garden. James tallied just 15 points and was a minus-32 in the blowout loss, leading to an avalanche of internet jokes and a strong criticism from one Stephen A. Smith.
The ESPN analyst went on “SportsCenter” following the C’s Game 1 win and gave a simple explanation for the Cavs’ struggles: James was “virtually non-existent.”
“Well listen, one team showed up, the other one didn’t,” Smith told anchor Joh Buccigross. “The Boston Celtics showed up ready to play, obviously the Cleveland Cavaliers had some time off, but the bottom line is it was an embarrassing performance by Cleveland. Obviously, you give Boston a lot of credit, look at Jayson Tatum, the way he boogied on them. Marcus Morris, he was inserted into the starting lineup, he showed up. Al Horford hit his first five shots, Jaylen Brown his seven of 10 shots.”
Then Smith went in on King James’ performance.
“It’s just that simple and LeBron James looked incredibly lethargic. It looked like something was wrong with him to be quite honest with you. Or he was just completely indifferent to playing Game 1. I don’t suspect that that will happen for the rest of the series, no question. But the greatest player in the world right now, who walked into this series averaging 34, nine and nine, was virtually non-existent all afternoon long. They were a minus-32 with LeBron James on the floor, you tell me what that means.”
Smith never is one to pull punches.
James had his worst playoff game in six years Sunday, so there’s a strong possibility that he will be on a mission during Tuesday night’s Game 2.
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