BOSTON -- Whether they were rested or ragged, facing the Cleveland Cavaliers was going to be an uphill fight for the Boston Celtics.
But there was no mistaking that the Celtics began Game 1 Wednesday night running on fumes.
And that led to the Cleveland Cavaliers running them out of the building -- for the first half at least -- as Cleveland came away with a 117-104 Game 1 win.
Boston looked a lot better in the second half, more like a team that seemingly caught its second wind.
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But it’s hard to tell if the improved play in the second half was because they finally found their footing, or that Cleveland took its foot off the gas because the Cavs had such a huge lead.
And there lies one of the many problems Boston is going to have with this series.
Cleveland is too talented, too experienced, too good to spot 20-some odd points in the first half and have any shot of coming back to win.
This time of year is LeBron James’ time to shine, the one player that the Celtics -- and the rest of the league for that matter -- has no answer for.
No matter what the Celtics did defensively or who they assigned to guard James, he had his way and finished with 38 points, nine rebounds and seven assists with a large chunk of points scored at the rim off drives to the basket.
“He made it clear, it was very clear that he was trying to get to the rim on us no matter who was on him,” said Celtics coach Brad Stevens.
And when he’s motivated to dominate, there’s little anyone or any team can do about it.
Conventional wisdom tells you to focus on cutting off his supporting cast and force him to be their main scorer.
But that’s not going to work.
James is too smart to allow himself to be cornered like that. When he sees himself drawing lots of attention, he’s quick to find the player who is open.
And on this Cavs team, one that has been among the NBA’s leaders in made 3’s all season, James has made team after team after team pay.
The first step for Boston to try and even up this series, is to start playing at a level high enough to where they are at least competing with the Cavs.
They did so for most of the second half, but again, it’s hard to read too much into that considering the lopsided nature of the game through the first two-plus quarters of action.
Still, great effort is an absolute must for any team to have if they have visions of knocking off the Cavs, winners of 12 straight playoff games dating back to last season’s title run.
But even that might not be enough.
Watching this Boston-Cleveland series is kind of like watching a game of Spades, knowing Boston has a great hand by most standards, only to realize the Cavs are whipping out Aces left and right.
Because unlike Chicago and Washington, the Cavs do not have a clear and present weakness that the Celtics can exploit.
They have the better starting five.
Cleveland’s bench has an edge as well.
Now that the Cavs have taken Game 1, no longer can you check off home-court advantage as a plus for the Celtics.
And then there’s the fatigue factor, which it looked like the Celtics were suffering from at the start of Game 1.
With games every other day, that’s not going to get any better, either.
The Celtics are going to have to find that second wind, that next gear sooner rather than later.
Otherwise, they’ll get a chance to rest all they want early next week when their season is over.