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LeBron James, Kevin Love throttle the Celtics in Game 1; Tristan Thompson provides muscle

05.17.17 at 11:01 pm ET
May 17, 2017; Boston, MA, USA;  Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James (23) drives against Boston Celtics guard Jaylen Brown (7) during the first quarter in game one of the Eastern conference finals of the NBA Playoffs at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

LeBron James drives against Boston Celtics guard Jaylen Brown during the first quarter in game one of the Eastern conference finals of the NBA Playoffs at TD Garden. (Greg M. Cooper-USA Today Sports)

LeBron James and the Cavaliers were not about add to the Celtics’ fairytale week.

In a display becoming of a defending champion, the Cavaliers, coming off a nine-day hiatus, came to Boston and put a stranglehold on the team that was just 48 hours removed from an electrifying and draining seven-game victory over the Washington Wizards and a day from winning the NBA Draft lottery for the first time in franchise history.

James scored 23 of his 38 points in the first half while Kevin Love added 32 points as the Cavaliers routed the Celtics, 117-104, in Game 1 of the Eastern finals Wednesday night at TD Garden. Jae Crowder and Avery Bradley finished with 21 apiece to lead the Celtics, who will try somehow to regroup for Game 2 Friday night at the Garden before the series shifts to Cleveland for Games 3 and 4 Sunday and Tuesday. 

“With LeBron playing at this level, other guys just have to be solid and contribute,” Cavaliers coach Ty Lue said. 

“He’s better than when I got in the league, a lot better,” Brad Stevens said. “He’s a good player, a great player. I didn’t think he could get any better.”

The Celtics tried many defensive options on James and Love, with little success all night. 

“It’s easier said than done but we have to figure out our best avenue quickly,” Stevens said of the challenge of defending James and Love when they’re on the court together. “Doubling is really scary against these guys but it may be necessary.”

The win was Cleveland’s 12th straight in the postseason, dating back to their comeback against the Warriors in the 2016 Finals. They are a perfect 9-0 in the playoffs while the Warriors are one better at 10-0 this postseason. 

The game started out as the Celtics worst nightmare. 

The bigger, stronger Cavaliers made seven of their first 13 shots. The Celtics, on the other hand, missed 11 of their first 14 shots. Most concerning early was Boston’s inability to score when not defended. The Celtics were just 2-for-10 on uncontested shots. 

The Cavs raced to leads of 22-9 and 26-13. The Cavaliers also dominated the glass, hauling in 15 rebounds to Boston’s 4. 

And then there was James. The superstar made seven of eight shots and posted exactly half of his team’s 30 points in the opening quarter as Cleveland took a 30-15 lead. 

Things only got worse in the second quarter. After missing all five 3-point shots in the opening 12 minutes, the Celtics missed 9-of-11 from deep in the second. Throw eight first-half turnovers into the mix – leading to 12 Cleveland points – and you have an unmitigated disaster. 

Two Kevin Love free throws with three minutes left in the second quarter stretched Cleveland’s lead to 53-29. James banked in a turnaround fallaway with 1:45 left to build Cleveland’s lead to 57-31. James’ layup with four seconds left gave him 23 points for the half on 10-of-15 shooting and put the Cavaliers ahead, 61-36. 

(For a full boxscore, click here).

The only highlight was a pull-up three from 27 feet by Thomas at the buzzer, closing the Celtics to within 22 at the break. 

Kelly Olynyk started the second half in place of Amir Johnson and it didn’t make much of a difference. Love was fouled shooting a three and hit a three on the next possession before Tristan Thompson cut to the basket for a uncontested dunk on a perfect pass from James. It was 73-45. 

When Love wasn’t hitting open threes and James wasn’t driving the lane, Celtic-killer Tristan Thompson was again abusing the Celtics in the paint and on the glass. The big man hit his first seven shots from the floor while grabbing eight rebounds, including six on the offensive glass in the first three quarters. 

The Celtics did try to get inside the head of Thompson late in the third. Marcus Smart got in Thompson’s face after a taking a shove to the back. LeBron was quick to push Thompson away. Moments later, it was Isaiah Thomas’ turn, barking at Thompson before being separated. Thompson finished with 20 points and nine rebounds. 

A 10-1 Celtics run cut the lead down to 19, 89-70. Kevin Love hit a three before Al Horford responded in kind. Marcus Smart’s put-back dunk brought the Garden crowd to its feet and sent the crowd into a frenzy. Boston trailed 92-75 heading into the final quarter. 

After scoring just two points in the third quarter, James helped put the game away with 13 in the fourth. 

The Celtics cut it to 16, 110-94, with 3:45 left but missed a pair of open looks on 3-pointers. James hit one of two free throws with 3:23 remaining to push the lead back to 17, 111-94. 

With the reserves in, the Celtics cut it to 11, 111-100 on a Gerald Green three before Iman Shumpert converted a baseline triple to put the game safely away. 

Read More: 2017 Eastern Conference finals, 2017 NBA Playoffs, Boston Celtics, Cleveland Cavaliers
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