The Celtics kept LeBron James in relative check, and still lost Game 1 to the Cleveland Cavaliers by double digits — an ominous sign for the remainder of their first-round playoff series.
James finished with 20 points on 18 shots and added seven assists with five turnovers, so instead Kyrie Irving made the Celtics pay, scoring 30 points in a 113-100 victory that gave the Cavs a 1-0 series lead. Kevin Love added a double-double (19 points, 12 rebounds).
The Celtics actually owned the lead 20 minutes into the game, thanks to 55 points from their bench, but couldn’t overcome Cleveland’s 15 offensive rebounds and 13 3-pointers. Isaiah Thomas led six C’s in double figures with 22 points and 10 assists. Kelly Olynyk and Evan Turner added 12 points apiece, while Brandon Bass, Marcus Smart and Jae Crowder each added 10.
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After the first quarter, this series seemed like it might go longer than anyone anticipated. The Celtics scored 31 points on 57.1 percent shooting, taking a 31-27 lead into the second frame. Tyler Zeller did the damage with six points against his former team early, Turner drained a corner 3-pointer to tie the game at 11 midway through the first quarter, and the bench carried the load late to take a 31-27 lead.
Olynyk couldn’t have enjoyed a better start to his first playoff appearance. Demonstrating the breadth of his offensive skill set, Olynyk drove baseline to score his first basket a minute after checking into the game, and then knocked down a 3-pointer on his next trip down the floor to give the C’s a 16-13 lead. Two minutes later, he threw down a driving dunk past fellow Canadian Tristan Thompson, and his second 3 of the game gave him 10 points in the opening quarter.
STARPOWER Cleveland’s stars were bound to take over at some point, and Irving was the first to make the Celtics pay, scoring 12 of his 20 first-half points in a second quarter that saw the Cavaliers drop 35 points and turn an eight-point deficit into an eight-point lead by halftime. The All-Star point guard made eight of his 12 shots in the opening 24 minutes, including all four of his 3-point attempts — the last of which came at the buzzer and gave Cleveland their 62-54 halftime edge.
In what may very well have been Celtics coach Brad Stevens‘ first between-quarter sideline interview on national TV, he wasn’t satisfied with his team’s four-point lead after the first quarter, if only because of Cleveland’s 27 points at the time. The C’s were defending well, but giving the Cavaliers too many second-chance points, and the rebounding edge caught up with them in the second quarter and beyond. All in all, the Cavs grabbed 14 offensive boards and out-rebounded the Celtics 35-12 through three quarters, taking a 91-76 lead into the fourth.
CLOSING THE THIRD QUARTER
The Cavaliers opened a 20-point lead with 4:33 left in the third after four straight points from Kevin Love, but the Celtics answered with a 14-0 run to cut the deficit down to six on the strength of reserves Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Jonas Jerebko and Marcus Smart. And then it all went to hell. The Cavs closed the quarter on a 9-0 run, including a James Jones 3 for their second buzzer beater in as many quarters, and established an insurmountable lead going into the fourth.