Celtics

Celtics-Cavaliers preview: Slowing LeBron James is key No. 1

Celtics-Cavaliers preview: Slowing LeBron James is key No. 1

BOSTON – Against the Washington Wizards, the Boston Celtics built a defensive wall of sorts against John Wall that eventually wore him down.

A similar mindset applies to defending Cleveland’s LeBron James. 

But as we have seen through the years, defending James – particularly in the playoffs – is a lot easier said than done. 

The Celtics will give it another go tonight in Game 2 of their best-of-seven playoff series against Cleveland, a series that Cleveland leads 1-0 following their 117-104 Game 1 win. 

In Game 1, James established himself from the outset, scoring 15 of his game-high 38 points in the first quarter. He also had nine rebounds and seven assists. 

And in their 117-104 Game 1 win, it was James leading the way with 15 of his game-high 38 points coming in the first quarter. 

“I was trying to use angles, see how my defender was playing me,” James said. “Just trying to counter if they try and take away one thing, having a counter move, things of that nature. I just try to be aggressive and make it work for our ball club.”

 Boston’s goal, much like Game 1, will be to limit as much as they can James’ ability to take over and dominate the game. 

“Listen, he’s the best player on the planet,” Boston’s Gerald Green told CSNNE.com. “It’s gonna take all 15 of us to play together, to defend him. Like I said, he’s the best player on the planet. He’s that good.”

“It has to be a five-man effort,” said Boston’s Jae Crowder. “Not one man can do that. You have to do a good job of showing it early. You can’t wait until he gets in the paint and try and build a wall. You have to do it early. It’ll be a challenge for us.”

After watching video of Game 1 with the team, it’s not all that surprising that Celtics head coach Brad Stevens found plenty of areas in which his team has left room for improvement prior to tonight’s game. 

Limiting James’ impact as a driver is on the list. 

Trying to cut down on the way he’s connecting with his teammates, yeah, that’s a concern as well. 

But as many teams will attest to, knowing what to do in limiting James and physically being able to do it, are two entirely different realities. 

“There are a lot of things that sound good in theory,” Stevens said. “We have to do our best fixing it up appropriately without overdoing it and make sure we try to do our best to keep him in front.”

And it will indeed take a collective team effort for the Celtics to compete let alone defeat the defending champions who came into the conference finals as overwhelming favorites.

“We're not scared of Cleveland,” Thomas said. “They're not the Monstars. They're not on Space Jam. They lace up their shoes just like us. They just happened to play better than us in Game 1, and we've just got to protect home court in Game 2 and get the win.”

No extra motivation for Celtics' Monroe in beating his old team

No extra motivation for Celtics' Monroe in beating his old team

MILWAUKEE – Unlike previous stops in his NBA career, Greg Monroe is no longer saddled with the burden of being the face of the franchise or expected to be a central part of the team’s core.

Drafted by the Detroit Pistons with the seventh overall pick in 2010, Monroe has been a solid but far from spectacular pro with career averages of 13.7 points and 8.6 rebounds while shooting 51.5 percent from the field.

Now, with the Celtics, that’s no longer an issue.

With Boston, the 6-foot-11 center is part of the puzzle rather than a cornerstone which works for all involved and has been one of the many factors weighing in Boston’s favor as the Celtics hit the road with a 2-0 lead against Monroe’s old team, the Milwaukee Bucks, in the best-of-seven series.

One of the big knocks on Monroe was how most of the teams he played on failed to get to the playoffs.

An eight-year veteran, this is only the second time Monroe has been to the playoffs.

The first time?

That was last year, with the Bucks, who were bounced in the first round by Toronto.

The irony of Monroe potentially getting to the second round of the playoffs at the expense of the Bucks is not lost on the veteran big man.

Still, he insists there’s no added motivation or incentive for him in this series against his former team.

“Like I said before, that part of my career is over,” Monroe said. “I’m focused on right now and right now we have to win this series.”

Here are five under-the-radar storylines leading into tonight’s pivotal Game 3 in Milwaukee:

MIDDLETON AND FOULS


Khris Middleton will be the first to tell you that he’s not the quickest defender on the floor. And the numbers will back him up on that assertion, especially when it comes to committing fouls. The 6-foot-8 Middleton leads all players in the postseason with a 5.0-fouls-committed-per-game average. While it is higher than his regular-season average, even then he ranked among the most foul-prone players in the NBA. Among those who appeared in at least 60 games last season, Middleton’s 3.3 fouls committed per game was the fourth-highest average.

BENCH PLAY


The Celtics' second unit has been among the NBA’s most productive since the All-Star break and that trend has continued into the playoffs. Boston’s bench has absolutely dominated this series, outscoring the Bucks’ backups, 68-48. Leading Boston’s backup attack has been Marcus Morris, who by himself has scored 39 points in the first two games – just nine less than the entire Milwaukee bench.

BOXING OUT


This series thus far has been more about Boston doing the little things, a lot better than the Bucks. Among the areas Boston has been better at, is boxing out which has been key to Boston’s success on both the offensive and defensive boards. In the first two games, nba.com/stats has the Celtics for 66 box-outs compared to 62 for the Bucks. It may not seem like a lot, but a couple more box-outs on Milwaukee’s part may have been enough for them to be coming into tonight’s game in a 1-1 series tie versus this being a must-win game for them now that they’re trailing, 2-0.

TATUM MORE THAN A SCORER


After having one of the greatest playoff debuts ever by a Celtics rookie, Jayson Tatum’s scoring wasn’t quite up to par with what we’ve seen from him this season or in Game 1 (19 points, 10 rebounds). He had just four points on 2-for-9 shooting in Game 2. Still, he actually did a lot of really good things for Boston to take control of Game 2 and never let it be in question. Tatum grabbed seven rebounds and dished out three assists while tallying a game-high four steals and blocking one shot. His ability to impact games in ways beyond scoring, speaks to his growth as a player and understanding of his role within the framework of this roster.

JABARI PARKER


There’s a different gear the best players have to shift into when the playoffs begin. And Jabari Parker simply hasn’t made that change. Not even close. A 12.6 points per game scorer in the regular season, Parker has scored just two points in the two games in this series. He has to be better tonight if the Bucks are to have any shot at getting back in this series.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

How to watch/stream Milwaukee Bucks vs Boston Celtics, Game 3

How to watch/stream Milwaukee Bucks vs Boston Celtics, Game 3

Tune into NBC Sports Boston to watch Game 3 of the opening round of the NBA playoffs, as the Celtics play the Bucks in Milwaukee. You can also click here to watch the Celtics livestream presented by Nissan on the NBC Sports App. Coverage begins at 8:30 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live Presented by ACE Ticket.

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[SHOP: Gear up, Celtics fans!]