After long rest, Cavs crush Celtics in Game 1 of Eastern Conference Finals

After long rest, Cavs crush Celtics in Game 1 of Eastern Conference Finals


BOSTON — LeBron James embarrassed every defender Boston threw at him and the Cleveland Cavaliers picked up where they left off following a long layoff, rolling to a 117-104 victory over the Celtics on Wednesday night in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals.

James had 38 points, nine rebounds and seven assists.

"He's playing at a high level. And that's the reason why we're riding him so much," coach Tyronn Lue said. "When LeBron's playing at that level other guys just have to be solid and we have a good chance to win."

Coming off a 10-day break, James and Cavaliers raced to an early lead were never threatened.

"You can't dig yourself in a big hole like that against them," Boston coach Brad Stevens said.

Kevin Love added a playoff career-high 32 points and had 12 rebounds to help the Cavaliers improve to 9-0 in the first three rounds of the playoffs. They opened 10-0 last season en route to their first NBA title.

Game 2 is Friday night in Boston.

James scored at will in the first half and the Cavs built a 26-point lead. Love opened up the floor for James, burying outside jumpers and forcing Boston to leave defenders one-on-one with James.

Avery Bradley and Jae Crowder led the Celtics with 21 points each. Isaiah Thomas had 17 points. Boston missed 11 of its first 14 shots.

Love averaged a quiet 13.8 points in the first two rounds, then broke out against a Boston team that knocked him out of the 2015 playoffs when he became tangled with Kelly Olynyk and dislocated his shoulder.

The shoulder was working just fine Wednesday, and he scored in the paint and from the outside.

Things got a little testy in the third quarter when Boston's Marcus Smart and Cleveland's Tristan Thompson got nose-to-nose and had to be separated by referees. Some jawing continued briefly before James stepped in to pull Thompson away.

Smart and Thompson were called for double technical on the play, but got tangled again a few minutes later. This time, Smart fell to the floor during that exchange, drawing a foul on Thompson.

The Celtics found some energy after the incident, closing the third quarter on an 11-3 run to pull to 92-75.

It didn't last long, though, as the Cavs quickly got the lead back up to 20.

James picked apart every defender that the Celtics threw at him in the first half.

He backed down defenders to set up 15-foot fade away jumpers. Other times, he simply took defenders off the dribble or sliced through double-teams on the way to layups.

Boston also seemed content to make every switch created by Cleveland screens, leading to some awkward matchups for James in the first half. In one such instance, Olynyk found himself one-on-one with James, who promptly drove past him and drew a foul at the rim.

The Celtics couldn't get anything working when they had the ball, held to just 35 percent from the field in the first half and 2 for 16 from beyond the arc.

The Cavs also held Thomas at bay offensively. He was 3 for 11 overall and 1 for 4 from the 3-point line after 24 minutes.


Cavaliers: Since Game 5 of NBA finals, Cleveland has won a franchise-record 12 straight playoff games. ... The Cavs hold a 33-4 playoff record against Eastern Conference opponents (16-3 on the road)

Celtics: Finished with 14 turnovers, and were outrebounded 32-27. ... Lost at home for the first time since Game 2 of first round against Chicago.

With Rockets healthy and dominant, this will no doubt be Warriors' hardest championship


With Rockets healthy and dominant, this will no doubt be Warriors' hardest championship

This has been a trying season for the Golden State Warriors – I mean, trying being a relative term here – but especially for those Warriors who were here in 2014-15 and watching the Houston Rockets have that very season.
Fortunately for them, they are channeling most of their energies in escaping the injury list, but the fact remains the same. Houston is playing better, may well BE better, and is showing no signs of slowing to enjoy the view in the rear-view mirror.
This isn’t just the way they beat Portland in Portland Tuesday night, but they way they have gone 30-3 – which is 29 more versions of the way they beat Portland Tuesday. They are not a direct comp with that Warriors team except at the macro level, which is that they are the ones whose players know how they fit with each other, and they are the ones who have one more effective player than everyone else.
And they’re the ones fielding the full team when everyone else is dented and belching blue smoke.
The Warriors won their two championships for many reasons, but one that bears repeating is the fact they finished fourth from the bottom in man-games lost to injury – in other words, they were healthy when all those around them are not.
Now they look like tired and creaky and spare-part-y, and as much as people have tried to hitch their wagons to the secret stopgap of the week – this week’s winner, Quinn Cook – they are getting karma’d the hard way this year. The player who has played the most games is Nick Young, who was hailed as an excellent 10th man when he was signed, and their top four players (Harrison Barnes being the pre-Kevin Durant) have gone from missing 10 games in 2015 to 21 to 33 to 46.
This may seem normal given that this has been a worse year for injuries in the NBA than last year, but timing matters too. James Harden’s last missed game was March 11 (before that January 15), Chris Paul’s was December 28, and Clint Capela has missed one game since December 29. Houston’s run began on January 8.
Coincidence? No. The reason Houston is better? Also no. There are plenty of other metrics that show that pretty clearly, including those pesky standings. The best team has the best record, as it did in the last three seasons (exempting, of course, that troublesome June in 2016), so live with it. 
Can this change? Yes. It’s March 21, and lots of things can happen to any team, most of them bad. But the difference is this – Houston needs as few of those things to happen as possible, and the Warriors need several of them. That hasn’t been true before. One-seeds have won eight of the last 10 titles for a reason, and the Warriors have been inspirational frontrunners.
But now they have to punch uphill, and they can’t even start punching until their injury list shortens to a manageable – oh, let’s say five; don’t want to peak too soon.
And then let’s see how long it takes for them to get up to speed, both physically and as a unit. It is not inconceivable that they could run out of time before they run out of problems.
The point is, Houston is showing just how hard this is going to be for the Warriors, and if Golden State does win anyway, it will be their best championship because it will be the hardest. Not their most fun, mind you, but legacies are built on degree of difficulty.
Anyway, they no longer have a choice. They’re coming off the pace, or they’re not arriving at all.

Four things we learned while Steph Curry dealt with fourth ankle injury

Four things we learned while Steph Curry dealt with fourth ankle injury

UPDATE (2:40pm PT on Tuessday): Steph Curry has been cleared for full team practices with the goal of playing this week, the Warriors announced.


The Warriors’ usual late-spring sprint toward the postseason, already slowed to a limp, deteriorated into a forlorn crawl Monday night in San Antonio as they were losing for the fourth time in six games.

Draymond Green, the only “healthy” member of the team’s All-Star quartet, left the game in the second quarter with a pelvic contusion and did not return.

Though Green said after this 89-75 loss to the Spurs that he doesn’t consider this a serious injury, it’s abundantly clear reinforcements can’t arrive soon enough.

Stephen Curry, a profoundly superior reinforcement, may return as soon as Friday.

Curry’s tender right ankle is scheduled to be reevaluated Tuesday, after which the Warriors will establish a timeline for his return. He could, according to team and league sources, be back in the lineup Friday night when the Atlanta Hawks visit Oracle Arena.

That would provide a massive injection of talent for the Warriors, who lost of three games during a four-day stretch in which they were forced to rely heavily on reserves and role players.

“We’re already shorthanded and then we lose another All-Star, the glue to our team, Draymond, at halftime,” said Quinn Cook, who in scoring 73 points over the past three games did an admirable job of trying of producing Curry-like numbers.

As good as Cook was on Monday, scoring 20 points, it’s a bit much to ask Cook to lead the Warriors past a San Antonio team fighting to extend its 20-year streak of consecutive playoff appearances.

The Warriors are built around their four All-Stars -- Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, Curry and Green. They usually can withstand the loss of one, and they can often are OK missing two. But when it’s three, and possibly four, the defending champs are a home without a foundation.

As the Warriors were losing four of six games, and two of the last three, we have learned four things:

1) Cook is an NBA keeper.

The point guard from Duke, who turns 25 on Friday, has proved not only that he belongs in the league but also that he can survive in the rotation of a championship contender. He’s considerably more effective than Pat McCaw. Even if everybody were healthy, it would be hard, maybe foolish, to deny Cook minutes.

2) Kevon Looney continues to smooth the rough edges of his game.

The Warriors opened the season uncertain what they could expect from a forward that has undergone surgery on both hips. Month after month, though, he has done most everything they could have asked. He operates well in their switching defense, is effective in traffic and now he’s blocking shots and raining jumpers. At this rate, the Warriors would be delighted to have him back next season.

3) David West and Jordan Bell are in search of rhythm.

West was reliably excellent, at both ends, prior to missing five games with a cyst on his right arm. Since returning last Friday, there have been visible signs of rust. He’ll be OK in time, but at 37 likely needs another game or two to rediscover his touch.

Bell missed 14 games with a left ankle sprain, returned briefly, sustained a sprain of his right ankle and missed three more games. In the three games since his return, he has yet to look comfortable. It’s not just rust; it’s also the team around him. He’s at his best when supporting the stars. It may take him a while before he shines again.

4) Postseason minutes may be scarce for Nick Young

The Warriors hired Young to score while not embarrassing himself on defense and he has had good moments on both ends. But his inconsistency -- partly attributed to unspectacular conditioning -- grates on coaches and sometimes teammates. As much as he wants to enjoy the postseason, he’s playing his way toward an insignificant role unless injuries dictate otherwise.