Behind a stout effort from LeBron James and career playoff highs from Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson, the Cleveland Cavaliers fought their way to a 117-104 victory over the Boston Celtics in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals from TD Garden in Boston Wednesday night.
Despite a 10-day layoff since closing out the Toronto Raptors in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, James, Love and Thompson combined to score 90 points, pull down 30 rebounds and steal five passes in the lopsided victory.
James led the way with 38 points, nine rebounds, seven assists and two steals over 42 minutes. James finished the game plus-16, the second-best margin of the game. It was James’ seventh straight playoff game with at least 30 points. The last time that was accomplished was by Shaquille O’Neal during the 2002-2003 season.
On nine-of-16 shooting, including a six-for-nine showing from three-point range, Love scored 32 points, corralled 12 rebounds, stole one pass and blocked a shot. Love’s 32 points were a single-game playoff high for the nine-year man out of UCLA.
Like Love, Thompson tallied a new single-game playoff high with 20 points and point guard Kyrie Irving scored 11 to go along with his six assists.
The Cavaliers built a 30-19 lead over the Celtics after the first quarter.
Despite missing all five of their looks from three-point range, the Cavaliers knocked down 13 of their 17 looks from inside the arc, including a seven-of-eight showing from small forward LeBron James, who scored a game-high 15 points in the first quarter.
Additionally, the Cavaliers held a 15-4 edge in rebounds, including a 5-2 advantage on the offensive glass.
The Cavaliers and Celtics traded early misses at the beginning of Game 1, but Cleveland quickly found a rhythm, and by virtue of a four-for-six showing from the field and Boston’s one-of-six start, the Cavaliers took an 8-4 lead with 8:38 to play in the first quarter.
Irving got the scoring started with a driving layup, and shooting guard J.R. Smith curled around a screen, caught a pass from James and got a layup to go in the lane.
After blocking a shot from Celtics forward Jae Crowder and pulling down a defensive rebound, Love got into the offensive act by hitting a pull-up jumper in the lane. Initially, Love looked to drive, but stutter-stepped himself free from a defender and kissed a bank shot off the glass for the basket.
Thompson got in on the act when he tipped in a missed shot from Love, a basket that keyed a 7-2 Cleveland run and forced a Celtics timeout with the Cavaliers leading, 15-9, with 6:03 to play in first quarter.
After helping to establish his teammates, James went to work on the offensive end of the court, attacking the basket and converting three of his next four shots, which staked the Cavaliers out to a 24-13 advantage over the Celtics with 2:54 left in the period.
James closed out the quarter with two driving layups and a third basket that came as a result of a goaltending violation.
The Cavaliers dominated play on both sides of the floor, and despite a buzzer-beating three-pointer from Celtics point guard Isaiah Thomas, took a 61-39 lead into the locker room at halftime.
The Cavaliers started the second quarter on a 6-1 run, and their 36-20 lead forced the Celtics into their second timeout of the game.
Although the Celtics responded with five straight points out of the break, the Cavaliers went back to work and put together a 12-0 run over the next three-plus minutes.
Reserve guard Iman Shumpert got the run started when he caught a pass from James and buried a three-pointer from 26 feet away. Then, Love scored five of the Cavaliers’ next seven points when he converted a pair of free throws and followed up with a three-pointer from the left wing.
Thompson helped set up Love’s three-pointer when he pulled down an offensive rebound on the left low block after James missed a three-pointer on the right wing. After corralling the rebound, Thompson passed to Irving in the left corner, and the All-Star ball-handler reversed it to Love for a wide-open look from long distance.
Thompson was rewarded for the extra effort on Cleveland’s next possession and he rolled to the hoop, caught an alley-oop from Irving and threw down a thunderous dunk that forced the Celtics into calling a full timeout.
James scored the Cavaliers’ final eight points of the half, twice on jumpers after posting up on the left low block, and then, after knocking down a pair of free throws and missing a layup, he finished off a drive with a basket with just 4.7 seconds left in the quarter.
The Cavaliers started strong in the second half, but a lopsided scoring run from the Celtics made it a 92-75 Cleveland lead after the third quarter.
Love got the Cavaliers rolling in the second half when he drew a shooting foul while attempting a three-pointer and knocked down all three of the ensuing free throws. Love followed that up with a three-pointer from 25 feet away on the Cavaliers’ second possession of the half.
Then, Thompson got in on the act when he answered an Avery Bradley dunk with a slam of his own and a layup on a pass from Smith, which staked the Cavaliers out to a 71-43 lead over the Celtics.
The Cavaliers got six straight points out of layups and tip-ins from Thompson, Irving and James, but after the Celtics caught fire from three-point range, Cleveland burned a timeout, which worked to its advantage.
Irving set up a pair of Love three-point attempts, and the veteran shooter knocked down both of his looks from long range. The first one came when Irving passed up a good look at a three-pointer from the top of the key and got the ball over to the right wing, where Love buried the first of back-to-back threes.
Then, on the next trip down the floor, Irving started to lose a handle on the ball, but got enough on a pass to get it to Love, who fired and buried another open three-pointer, which gave the Cavaliers an 88-60 lead with 5:05 to play in the third quarter.
Although the Celtics went on a 15-4 run to end the third quarter, Love hit another three-pointer from the left corner of the floor in the final minute of action.
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