Boston: LeBron James has made Boston’s TD Garden his personal playground during the play-offs in recent years.
The Cleveland Cavaliers entered the Eastern Conference finals with a 9-3 record against the Celtics in games played at the Garden over the past four years, including six straight wins.
James’ 979 postseason points against Boston were the most by any player against any opponent in the past 50 years. And his 21 play-off wins against the Celtics were also the most against them during that span.
But none of that mattered on Sunday in Boston’s dominating 108-83 win over Cleveland in Game 1, in which James committed seven turnovers while being held to just 15 points, nine assists and seven rebounds.
It would be solid night for most NBA players, but was pedestrian by the super-human standard that LeBron has set for himself this postseason, at times single-handedly carrying the Cavs to victories.
But he was clear that his concern level down being 1-0 was “zero.”
“I didn’t go to college, so it’s not March Madness,” he said. “You see ways you can get better throughout the series. But I’ve been down 0-1, I’ve been down 0-2. I’ve been down before in the postseason.
“But for me, there’s no level of concern no matter how bad I played tonight with seven turnovers, how inefficient I was shooting the ball. We have another opportunity to be better as a ballclub come Tuesday night and we’ll see what happens.”
James said the Celtics deserved credit for the defensive strategy they employed against him, which started with Marcus Morris challenging him from outset, limiting him to 2-of-6 shooting in the first quarter as Cleveland fell into a 36-18 hole.
“I think they had a great game plan in Game 1, and he was the start of it,” James said. “He was my matchup and I think they did a great job of communicating throughout the whole game, knowing where I was and all of my teammates was. [Celtics coach] Brad [Stevens] did a great job.”
“We have an opportunity to look at some film tomorrow and see ways they was making us uncomfortable.”
The Celtics showed James several different looks throughout the game, switching as many as five different players on him.
Morris, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Terry Rozier, Marcus Smart and Aron Baynes all took turns guarding James at times. Boston frequently sent a double team when he got the ball in the post. It forced him to settle for jump shots early and limited his ability to get to the rim.
That in turn kept James from creating shots for his teammates. For the game Cleveland was outscored by 18 points with James on the floor.
“We are just going to try to make it as tough for him as we can,” Rozier said. “The other guys, obviously, [Kevin] Love and J.R. Smith, we don’t want to give them open looks … That has been a big emphasis the last couple of days. We did a good job of that and we just have to keep it up.”
When the Cavs did finally show a little momentum, cutting Boston’s lead to 14 at the end of the third quarter, the Celtics responded with a 7-0 run at the start of the fourth.
James was asked afterward what happened during that flurry and he responded with a verbatim recitation of each play, down to Tatum’s coast-to-coast layup off a Eurostep move in the lane.
When he was finished James leaned back in his chair, spread his arms and wryly said, “There you go.”