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Random dribbles ahead of Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Boston Celtics on Tuesday.
1. Let’s start with Game 1. For LeBron James and the Cavs, it was the normal start to a series. Instead of coming out with great energy and going in full attack mode, the Cavs sort of dip their toes in the water and check the temperature before diving all the way in.
2. The result was a flat and overall lousy performance, and an unsightly 108-83 loss. Everything about it was bad — including LeBron. (Perhaps especially LeBron.)
3. But James said afterward that he has “zero concern.” If I’m the leader of the team, I would probably admit the Cavs were outplayed, and totally out-hustled, and had better pull it together. But LeBron has taken every imaginable path to seven straight Finals appearances. He has earned the right to not act concerned after a Game 1 loss.
4. Frankly, I’m with LeBron in the sense that the series doesn’t start until both teams have played a home game. The Cavs have another one in Boston before getting Game 3 at Quicken Loans Arena on Saturday.
5. I said this before the Cavs’ sweep of the Toronto Raptors in the second round and I believe the same holds true in the East finals — the Celtics MUST win both at home to have a real chance.
6. So really, all the Cavs need to do to feel great about themselves is win Tuesday. If that’s truly the case, and it is, then Game 2 is actually a must-win for the Celtics. One loss at home and … poof, home-court advantage and all the momentum suddenly belongs to the Cavs.
7. When the Cavs lose in the fashion they did in Game 1, it’s almost always because they “settle” for outside shots, continuing to fire away even when the jumpers aren’t falling. They went a miserable 4-of-26 on 3-pointers. When you only make four, 26 attempts from beyond the arc is a ridiculously sad number.
8. Much like the opening-round series against the Indiana Pacers, the Cavs suddenly are back to needing more from the other guys not named LeBron. They definitely need more from at least LeBron, anyway. He scored 15 points on 5-of-16 shooting. And is it just me, or is James historically less-than-his-awesome-self for Sunday afternoon road games?
9. Anyway, back to the others. J.R. Smith went 2-of-9 from the floor in Game 1. Kyle Korver went 2-of-6 and George Hill went 2-of-4. The Cavs played with no tempo and no rhythm — and when they don’t make shots, they always make things worse by not defending well, either.
10. Like the Pacers, the Celtics are an inspiring story. Boston lost Gordon Hayward (leg) in the first quarter of the season and Kyrie Irving (knee) just before the playoffs. The Celtics still have talent, and they play incredibly hard. But let’s be honest, what’s left is a team of younger guys (Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown) and role players.
11. It’s understandable if the Cavs lose a game in this series to that type of team. But they sure shouldn’t get blown out of the gym in every facet possible, which is what happened in Game 1.
12. The Cavs’ best player was Tristan Thompson. He brought some needed energy off the bench for eight points (on 4-of-6 shooting) and a game-high 11 rebounds. Cavs coach Tyronn Lue hinted Thompson could start in Game 2, and Thompson should.
13. Just as I wrote prior to the deciding-game win over the Pacers in Round I, the Cavs should again go with guys “who have been there before.” James, Thompson, Smith and Kevin Love have all been part of a Cavs team that has reached three straight Finals. Hill is a veteran who has played in plenty of big games himself. That may be your best starting unit moving forward.
14. That would move Korver back to the bench, and that’s OK. It doesn’t have to mean Korver sits or only plays in garbage time. He could still come in midway through the first quarter so he is on the floor with LeBron — when Korver is at his most lethal. Plus, the Cavs could use his reliability in reserve.
15. But regardless of starting lineups and rotations, the Cavs can’t just sit back and wait for the Celtics to mess up. Boston is a team in the truest sense and extra motivated to conquer the Eastern beast that the Cavs have become.
16. The Cavs have to play with energy, attack the basket and not stand around and just frivolously loft up jumpers. They did everything wrong in Game 1. They say they know that. Let’s see if they do anything about it.
17. Finally, Love was just OK in Game 1. Even on his best days, he still has too many postseason games where he can’t get out of his own way. If LeBron and Love are both clicking, the Celtics will not be able to beat the Cavs — period. But for the love of Pete, show some mental fortitude. It’s not all about making shots. That helps, sure. But as we’ve seen with the Celtics and Pacers, there are other ways to win. Heart and hustle can carry you a long way.
18. Thompson to reporters Monday: “Usually when LeBron has these kind of games, the next game he does something legendary.” Tristan is right about that one.
19. So, predictions? I don’t know if the Cavs will Game 2, but I do think they will win the series. If they DO win Game 2, I believe the series is over. If they get blown out again, well, it may be time to start to worry.