Published On: Mon, May 14th, 2018

Why the Cavs aren't panicking after Game 1 blowout loss to Celtics

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Some 33 years after the Boston Celtics defeated the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 1 of the NBA Finals, immortalized as the “Memorial Day Massacre,” Boston laid down what could be called the “Mother’s Day Massacre” on Sunday with a 108-83 pounding of the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals.

The Celtics went on to lose the 1985 Finals in six games. Obviously, one series does not equal the other; the Lakers of three decades ago had four Hall of Famers on their team.

These Cavs, however, do have LeBron James.

Following the Game 1 loss, James told reporters that he has “zero level of concern at this stage.” It didn’t quite ooze the disrespect of his statement two years ago that the Toronto Raptors didn’t present him with an “adverse situation,” but the thought is similar.

To be clear, these Celtics are far better equipped to match up with LeBron and the rest of his shaky squad than the Raptors team the Cavs just swept. That was on display Sunday, with Al Horford punishing Kevin Love, and Marcus Morris holding James himself to five points on the 24 possessions in which he guarded the King.

Now, before the other Morris twin is anointed the “LeBron stopper,” consider it unlikely that James is held to 15 points again in this series. His minus-26 in the first half Sunday was the worst such half of basketball in his playoff career.

The Cavs simply missed shots

(Photos courtesy: NBA League Pass)

James was the guiltiest party here, going 0-for-5 from beyond the arc. Yet the Cavs missed multiple open looks, including the above bricks by Love and George Hill. In total, Love, Kyle Korver, and J.R. Smith combined for 2-of-12 shooting from deep and just 26 points. As a team, Cleveland shot 15.3 percent from downtown.

There’s no way the Cavs can win the series with that sort of production from players not named LeBron, but it’s also why Celts coach Brad Stevens stressed that his team is “going to have to play better” in Game 2.

Boston was aggressive on closeouts in several other situations, but if the Cavs can still spring open looks with LeBron distributing, those shots will, in theory, eventually fall. “I think we’re very alert to the fact that we’ll get a heavyweight punch on Tuesday night,” Stevens said of Game 2.

Possible Cavs adjustment?

One definite area of concern for Cleveland is Love. Horford has always generally defended him well, but he also exposed Love defensively Sunday, shooting 7-of-8 with him as his primary defender. The Cavs took control over the Raptors in the last round when they offensively refocused Love in the post, but that’s probably not something they can repeat with Boston having the likes of Horford and Aron Baynes.

Perhaps, as a result, Cavs coach Tyronn Lue would consider moving Tristan Thompson into the starting lineup and sliding Love back to power forward. While Cleveland has been efficient with Love at center, going big with Thompson separates Love from Horford and could force the Celtics to counter with Baynes.

Thompson has been rock solid since the later stages of the Pacers series, and while moving him into the starting five further thins an already sketchy Cavaliers bench, it may be worth considering.

Not that the Cavs are panicking, yet.

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