Wrap-Up — Weathering a third-quarter funk during the regular season is one thing. Trying to do so against a hungry squad like the Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals is entirely something else.
After the Cavs took a seven-point edge into intermission, it was all Celtics from there – as Boston outscored the Wine & Gold, 59-39, in the second half, pulling away late to hand Cleveland the 107-94 loss on Tuesday night at TD Garden and take a 2-0 lead in the series.
LeBron James was spectacular in the loss, but he didn’t get a ton of help outside of Kevin Love. A perfect snapshot of that was the first quarter, when James scored 21 of his 42 points in the opening period and Cleveland led by just four, 27-23.
The game was physical throughout, and Boston’s physicality began to frustrate the Wine & Gold in the second half – culminating with JR Smith shoving Al Horford in the back on a layup attempt, drawing a flagrant foul with just under four minutes to play.
With only three ties and two lead-changes in the ballgame, Tuesday’s loss was undoubtedly a tale of two halves.
In the opening stanza, the Cavaliers led for nearly all of it – taking a double-digit lead in the first quarter and led by as many as 11 late in the second quarter. But Boston was all business after the break, shooting 56 percent from the floor in the third period and outscoring Cleveland by two touchdowns heading to the fourth quarter.
LeBron spelled out the problem when asked about that fateful stretch.
”Turnovers and not defending full shot clock, especially in that third quarter,” said James. “We’ve had our third quarter woes this whole season, and tonight was another example of that.”
The Celtics would score the first four points of the fourth and quashed any Cavalier comeback attempt from there.
Cleveland got to within six on LeBron’s 17-footer with 4:42 to play. But Smith’s foul on Horford ignited the soft-spoken center, who would score the game’s next eight points to put things essentially out of reach.
James posted his fifth 40-point game of the 2018 postseason and third triple-double – going off for 42 points on 16-for-29 shooting, including 5-of-11 from three-point range to go with a game-high 12 assists, 10 boards and a block.
But even the four-time MVP’s night wasn’t exactly perfect. He led both teams with six turnovers (bringing his total to 13 through the first two games) and was just 5-of-10 from the stripe.
Kevin Love was very good, moving back to the 4 with Tristan Thompson getting the start at center. On the night, the five-time All-Star finished with 22 points and a game-high 15 rebounds, going 9-of-18 from the floor and 2-of-6 from beyond the arc.
”I think you can actually take a lot from the Boston Celtics,” said Love. “They had all their starters in double-figures, and that comes a lot, I think, with not only [Brad] Stevens putting them in the right position but their level of activity. They move the ball, they continue to cut.”
The only other Cavalier to notch double-figures was Kyle Korver, who tallied all 11 of his points in the first half – going 4-of-8 from the floor, 2-of-5 from long-distance in the loss.
Boston had no such problem with scoring distribution – with all five starters plus Marcus Smart scoring in double-figures. Jaylen Brown led the way with 23 points and former Shaker Heights star Terry Rozier adding 18 as the Celtics’ starting backcourt outscored Cleveland’s tandem of George Hill and JR Smith by a combined total of 41-3.
Kevin Love tallies double-double in Game 2 victory.
The Celtics played at a much more urgent pace than Cleveland on Tuesday night.
The Cavaliers actually out-shot Boston, 46 percent to 43 percent, with each team canning 10 triples. But Brad Stevens’ squad had 12 more attempts while shooting 85 percent from the stripe compared to just 59 percent for the Wine & Gold. Cleveland also committed 15 turnovers to just six for the Celtics.
Turning Point — A cursory glance would tell you that the third period (and second half) were the Wine & Gold’s undoing. But it was actually a seemingly harmless 4-0 run to end the first half that set the tone for Cleveland’s collapse.
Jeff Green drilled a three-pointer with 42 seconds remaining in the second quarter to put the Cavaliers up 11 – 55-44 – as Boston’s crowd sat silent. But Marcus Morris scored on the Celtics’ next possession and, following a LeBron turnover, scored again on a short bank shot.
Green turned the ball over on the Cavs last possession and The Garden was re-energized heading into halftime. In the third quarter, things began coming apart for the defending Conference champs.
By the Numbers – 528 … postseason boards that Kevin Love has grabbed as a Cavalier, moving him past Zydrunas Ilgauskas and into third place on the franchise’s all-time Playoff rebounding list.
Quotable – Coach Tyronn Lue, on Boston’s physicality in Game 2 …
”We’ve got to be tougher. I think they’re playing tougher than we are. We see that. They’re being physical. They’re gooning the game up, and we’ve got to do the same thing. We’ve got to be tougher, mentally and physically.”
Up Next — After falling behind by two games in the Conference Finals on Tuesday night in Boston, the series returns to the North Coast for a pair – beginning with a Saturday night (5/19) showdown at The Q for Game 3. Game 4 goes down on Tuesday night (5/21) in Cleveland before heading back to Beantown next Wednesday (5/23). If necessary, Game 6 is back in The Land next Friday (5/25) and returns to TD Garden for Game 7 next Sunday (5/27) – all games, 8:30 p.m. ET.