CLEVELAND -- As someone who prides himself on playing good defense, Cleveland Cavaliers center Tristan Thompson was understandable upset by the team’s second-half effort in their 107-94 loss to the Boston Celtics in Game 2 of the 2018 NBA Eastern Conference Finals at TD Garden in Boston Tuesday night.
And Thompson shared that frustration with the media in the locker room following the Game 2 loss, which put the Cavaliers in an 0-2 hole against the Celtics in the best-of-seven series heading into Saturday’s Game 3 matchup at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland.
“I think defensively, we were just horrible,” Thompson said. “We were terrible defensively, (expletive) defensively.
“Of course, ‘Bron’s going to put up those numbers and whatnot, but if we don’t get stops on the defensive end, they’re going to make open threes, they’re going to have rhythm, and their guys are going to feel good, so if you don’t play no defense in the playoffs, especially in the conference finals, you’re not going to win a ballgame.”
Third-quarter lulls plagued the Cavaliers all throughout the regular season, and that problem reared its ugly head once again in Game 2.
On the strength of a 26-16 scoring run, the Celtics built a 74-71 lead over the Cavaliers with 4:06 to play in the third quarter. Boston built the three-point advantage by making 10 of its first 15 shots out of the halftime break, while the Cavaliers hit just seven of their 16 looks at the hoop in the third quarter.
And it only got worse from there.
Over the entire third quarter, the Celtics outscored the Cavaliers, 36-22, thanks in large part to their 56 percent shooting from the field. Out of the halftime break, the Celtics converted 14 of their 25 looks at the hoop, including a five-for-10 showing from three-point range.
After a strong shooting performance in the first half, the Cavaliers made only nine of their 22 attempts in the third quarter.
“They move around, get a lot of action,” Thompson said. “They’re a very well-coached team, and they force us on the defensive end to have multiple efforts, and if you fall asleep or don’t do the right coverages, they try to expose that.”
For the Cavaliers to get back into the series against the Celtics, Thompson believes it will come down to communication, physicality and having multiple efforts defensively in order to close out more Boston possessions with rebounds instead of inbounds passes.
“We know what we need to do,” Thompson said. “We reviewed it so many damn times, so I think it’s just the communication. Guys know if a guy’s under control, you don’t have to over-help, or if I’m going to trap the box, you’ve got to have my X. I just think we’ve got to communicate and not point-switch.
“They’re going to play physical. They’ve got to. That gets them going, and they’ve got gritty players that like to play hard. That’s their edge and that’s what they bring to the table, so guys have got to be ready for that, and if you’re not ready, then you can’t play.”